February 18, 2008 / 9:17 PM / 11 years ago

Serbia urges split U.N. council to act on Kosovo

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - If the U.N. Security Council does nothing to stop Kosovo from seceding, it will send a message to the world that no country’s sovereignty and borders are safe, Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Monday.

But the 15-nation council remained deeply divided over Kosovo and took no action at an emergency meeting held after the United States and major European Union powers recognized the former Serbian province as an independent state.

Tadic repeated that Serbia saw the majority ethnic Albanian territory’s secession as a violation of international law and urged the council to avoid setting a dangerous precedent.

“If you cast a blind eye to this illegal act, who guarantees to you that parts of your countries will not declare independence in the same illegal way?” he told the council.

“Who can guarantee that a blind eye will not be cast to the violation of the charter of the United Nations, which guarantees the sovereignty and integrity of each state, when your country’s turn comes up?”

Tadic received strong support from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, who called Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Sunday “a blatant breach of the norms and principles of international law.”

Serbia’s argument is that the secession is illegal because it’s neither endorsed by Belgrade, which considers Kosovo its sovereign territory, nor by the U.N. Security Council, which has had ultimate authority over Kosovo since 1999.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya also expressed concern about Kosovo’s move, saying it posed a “serious challenge to the fundamental principles of international law.” Envoys from Vietnam and South Africa also expressed reservations about it.

Serbia and its ally Russia, a veto-wielding Security Council member, have been urging the council to intervene against Kosovo’s independence. But Moscow and Belgrade have failed to move the council due to Western support for Kosovo.

Tadic reiterated that Serbia was committed to peace and would not use force to prevent Kosovo from going its own way. But he said Belgrade would never recognize independent Kosovo.

LEGACY OF MILOSEVIC

Russia and Serbia have recently called three emergency council sessions to bridge the differences Moscow has with Western states that say secession is the only viable option.

Monday’s session made it clear the impasse remained.

Italian envoy Aldo Mantovani told Serbia and the council: “Kosovo’s independence is a fact. It’s time to move ahead.” This view was supported by council members United States, Britain, Croatia, Belgium and France.

Even though more than two years of talks between Pristina and Belgrade on the future status of Kosovo yielded no agreement, both Russia and Serbia continue to demand a new round of negotiations.

The United States and most EU member states trace the need for independence back to late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal suppression of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians, which led to a 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia to compel it to stop killing and expelling Albanians.

“(Milosevic) had tried in 1999 to expel the majority population from Kosovo,” British Ambassador John Sawers said. “People being herded onto trains provoked images from the 1940s. The events of 1999 shaped the events we see now.”

Sawers said today’s Belgrade was not responsible for Milosevic’s actions but must accept that his legacy meant that Kosovo would never be ruled from Belgrade again.

Tadic dismissed this view. He also warned EU member states that recognized Kosovo that they had done nothing to bring Serbia closer to the bloc.

“By recognizing the independence of Kosovo you are not helping the European future of Serbia,” Tadic said at the end of the meeting. “It’s not a friendly act to my country.”

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO troops were deployed there after its bombing campaign.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council the U.N. mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, would remain there. In response to journalists’ questions later, he declined to say whether he thought Kosovo’s independence declaration was legal or not.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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