Friday, December 14, 2007

Kosovo fails to patch up NATO-Russia gap

Lavrov rejects, Rice defends Ahtisaari independence plan

Kosovo hogged the limelight at the ministerial meeting of NATO ministers on December 7, held in cloudy, rain-soaked Brussels, as Russia later joined a NATORussia Council to express strong opposition to any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

The differences stayed at same levels if not widening as NATO and Russia failed to agree over the future status of Kosovo ahead of December 10 UN deadline to reach an amicable agreement.

The UN had set the deadline for internationally-brokered talks to deliver agreement on Kosovo but the talks have already ended without a deal. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians having a majority opt for independence while Serbia does not want to let go.

Addressing journalists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We are for a solution which will be acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina and only for government bodies which will be fully empowered to ensure security.” Asked to comment on Moscow’s response to a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, Lavrov said, “Reaction will be based on international law and I very much hope that other members of international community will proceed on that basis too.”Lavrov called the projected solution as “as a precedent,” adding, “How the Kosovo crisis is going to evolve is being looked at by a lot of other countries in the world and not only countries in the Balkans. So it has to do with international law, Helsinki Act and any body who goes against them, will certainly go on a slippery path and not help stability of Europe.”

Asking the negotiations to continue beyond the December 10 deadline, Lavrov warned those who talk of only Kosovo independence “not to camouflage in lies” as Belgrade with “a whole series of specific compromise proposals” has been “very constructive and flexible in its proposals” and which merited further negotiations on Kosovo’s status.

Earlier, James Appathurai, NATO spokesman said, “Clearly the Russian position is different ... the NATO point of view is ... that the process should now move - that there needs to be movement towards resolution.” NATO has confirmed it will keep 16,000 troops in Kosovo - still a province of Serbia - to deter any violence.

Addressing journalists, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We have agreed to keep NATO troops on ground, no troop reduction, no additional caveats and to allow our military commanders to do the necessary military planning for the alliance.”

“We are committed to a stable and peaceful Balkans, that was an early commitment of NATO and it remains a commitment of NATO.”Asked to comment on Lavrov’s insistence that talks should continue, Rice said, “We hope that there can be a constructive approach that will unite all of us with responsibilities for stability in the Balkans and that includes Russia as Russia also has responsibilities for that. But there is a certain reality and that reality is that Troika which worked very hard, made some progress, got two sides to talk for the first time, laid down some important principles but I think that process is at an end.”

“If you see what we are hearing from Troika, it’s very clear and that means now that we have to move on to next step. It is not going to produce stability in the Balkans to ignore the reality of situation between Belgrade and Pristina.”

“It’s not going to help stability to put off decisions however difficult they may be. We have to make sure that we have full commitments to the principles before decisions are taken that are embodied in the Ahtisaari plan. This is going to be difficult enough and everybody has to live up to responsibilities.” According to the proposed plan of Martti Ahtisaari, UN administrator in Kosovo, there should be a “supervised independence.”

Speaking about her discussion with NATO allies, Rice said, “We have recommitment to KFOR and we are ready for all contingencies but also an understanding that there needed to be unity between the allies as we are going to move into what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult period. We have had a UN track and reaffirmation of 1244 is the most important thing that we can do right now.”

The US Secretary of State reiterated, “We can not go anywhere by ignoring reality and pretending that we don’t have to make decisions.” Echoing her views, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had said NATO would “act resolutely against anyone who seeks to resort to violence.”

Earlier, NATO foreign ministers agreed that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is a sufficient and appropriate legal basis for KFOR to continue its role. The alliance ministers also concluded that KFOR’s force levels will remain as they are, and that no new restrictions will be placed on the use of those forces.

There have been warnings from ethnic Albanian leaders that they may declare independence unilaterally after December 10 deadline lapses, prompting fears of a fresh outbreak of violence.

“Kosovo will remain and has to remain a place where Kosovar Albanians, Serbs and others must be able to live in peace together – free from fear, and free from intimidation. And we are determined to play our part,” stressed the NATO Secretary General.

The majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have nodded yes to the Ahtisaari plan which is set to gradually steer Kosovo’s institutions towards independence with guidance from international institutions while safeguarding the rights and property of the Serb minority.

Arguing that such a solution for Kosovo will set dangerous precedent for separatist inspirations elsewhere like Basque, Scottish and other regions, Russia has supported Serbia’s stance at the UN Security Council to keep Kosovo within Serbia but with greater autonomy.Kosovo is technically part of Serbia but has been under UN administration for the last eight years. Belgrade’s security forces were driven out of Kosovo by a NATO bombing campaign in 1999, launched to stop a violent Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

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