February 21, 2008 / 1:27 PM / 12 years ago

Serbia tells Pope: Kosovo independence an injustice

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Serbia took its campaign against Kosovo’s independence to the Vatican on Thursday when its ambassador told Pope Benedict that “moral principles” alone showed it was an injustice.

But the Pontiff, receiving Serbia’s ambassador to the Holy See, steered clear of the dispute and renewed his call for all sides to show restraint.

“With regard to the current crisis in Kosovo, I call upon all interested parties to act with prudence and moderation, and to seek solutions that favor mutual respect and reconciliation,” the Pontiff said.

Sunday’s declaration of independence by Kosovo, which has a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, triggered small and at times violent protests in Serb cities and in neighboring Bosnia’s autonomous Serb half.

Serbia rallied its people on Thursday for a mass protest against the independence bid, with organizers expecting hundreds of thousands to attend.

“With your devotion to the highest moral principles, your Holiness knows better than anyone that injustice, which is called justice in only one unique case, always remains an injustice,” said Serb ambassador Viadeta Jankovic, according to text of his comments released by the Vatican.

Embassies of countries that recognized Kosovo were attacked, especially those of the United States and current EU president Slovenia, and some foreign businesses were stoned or threatened.

Pope Benedict met with Kosovo’s president earlier this month but the Holy See has not recognized Kosovo. The Pope told Jankovic on Thursday that he shared Serbia’s desire for lasting peace.

Serbia and its ally Russia say Kosovo’s declaration of independence violates a 1999 U.N. resolution and that recognizing it will open a “Pandora’s Box” of separatism.

Serbia’s ambassador said he hoped to count on the support of the Holy See in its “aspirations to join the European integrations”.

“All that Serbia expects from that process is to be granted the same treatment as that accorded to any other free, independent and democratic Christian country,” Jankovic said.

“(This) means that its territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the southern province of Kosovo, must be respected.”

In 1999 NATO intervened in Kosovo to stop mass killings of civilians by Serb forces in a two-year counter-insurgency war. The United Nations then took over the administration of Kosovo.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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