Global Policy Forum

UN Security Council Fails to Bridge Gaps on Kosovo


By Claudia Parsons

December 19, 2007

The U.N. Security Council failed to bridge deep divisions over the future of Kosovo on Wednesday and Western countries said they would take the lead in steering the province to independence from Serbia. With Western backing, Kosovo's 90 percent Albanian majority is preparing to declare independence within weeks, setting up a showdown with Serbia and its big power backer Russia. "The potential for a negotiated solution is now exhausted," a joint statement by the EU ambassadors on the council and the United States said.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica warned that a unilateral declaration of independence backed by Western countries would undermine the U.N. Charter and mark the start of a new era "in which might is above right." He said it would spark a "serious crisis," but he declined to say what action Serbia might take.

Fatmir Sejdiu, president of the UN-run province, told the council the collapse of the former Yugoslavia was "one of the great tragedies of the modern era." "We are exhausted after nearly two decades of isolation, war and political limbo," he said, recalling the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s that he said made co-existence of Serbia and Kosovo in the same state impossible.

It was the first council debate since a "troika" of mediators -- the EU, Russia and the United States -- said this month that four months of talks had failed to reach a deal with no compromise on either side on the key issue of sovereignty. The meeting ended with no action taken -- an outcome the EU and the United States have said amounts to closing the door on U.N. efforts to resolve Kosovo's status. Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said there was still room for negotiation. "Any move towards unilateral independence would clearly be outside the limits of international law," he told reporters after the meeting. He said unilateral independence would send "a shockwave to the international system and to international law."

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said: "Serbia is not going to use force," but would use legal, diplomatic and economic means to reverse such a move.

Legal Wrangling

Kostunica said unilateral independence would violate the council's resolution 1244 on Kosovo, passed in 1999, which he said guaranteed Serbia's territorial integrity, as well as the U.N. Charter, which also speaks of respect for sovereignty. He urged the council to call for further negotiations. "Serbia will declare all unilateral acts of Albanian separatists null and void, and for Serbia the province of Kosovo will forever remain its integral and inalienable part," Kostunica said.

The British and U.S. ambassadors said their legal advisers were convinced Resolution 1244 provided the legal basis to implement a plan for "supervised independence" drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari without any further council decision. "The principle of territorial integrity is qualified by the principle of self-determination," British Ambassador John Sawers told reporters.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Wednesday's meeting had underlined that the positions of the two sides were irreconcilable. "I did call on our Russian colleague ... one more time to embrace the Ahtisaari plan," he told reporters. "If he does not change that position, the United States, Europeans, others, are determined to move forward with the implementation of that plan," Khalilzad said.

Kosovo, to many Serbs the cradle of their identity, has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO drove out Serb forces to halt killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians. EU and U.S. envoys were careful to avoid using the word independence, but the Ahtisaari plan clearly spells out steps toward what it calls "supervised independence."

More Information on the UN Security Council
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