Thursday, June 29, 2006

Serbia warns of break with west over Kosovo

By Daniel Dombey in London and Neil Macdonald in Pristina

Published: June 28 2006 03:00 |FT

Serbia yesterday warned it could break with the west unless the international community took a more conciliatory approach over the issues of Kosovo and the apprehension of an indicted war criminal.

Vojislav Kostunica, the Serbian premier, said that Belgrade would not accept an imposed solution for the majority ethnic Albanian province that many western diplomats believe should be put on the path to independence by the end of the year.

Speaking in London after meeting Tony Blair, his UK counterpart, Mr Kostunica also labelled as "absurd" the European Union's decision to halt negotiations on closer ties with Serbia because of Belgrade's failure to apprehend Ratko Mladic, a war crimes indictee.

But he did say that Serbia would draw up an "action plan" on improving co-operation with the United Nations tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, a step the EU has called for.

An "imposed solution" would "certainly be rejected by Serbia's parliament, and "that would inevitably mark the turning point [for] . . . Serbia's relations with the rest of the world," he said.

Within Serbia, support for the extreme nationalist Radical party is rising and Mr Kostunica said the country was "becoming tired of the constant pressure".

He singled out the EU's decision to halt talks on a stabilisation and association agreement - a waystation to membership - because Mr Mladic remains free.

"We have, in fact, ended up in a position where the survival of an entire Eur-opean democracy directly depends on bringing tojustice one single indictee, which . . . is absurd," hesaid.

Mr Blair called for Serbia to comply with the wishesof Kosovo's people and also to step up its co-operation with the UN tribunal.

The UK has been atthe forefront of calls forBelgrade to live up to its obligations, while other governments, notably France, have taken a more conciliatory approach, concerned that Serbia could be alienated from the EU.

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