Global Policy Forum

Security Council Deadlocked over Kosovo


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
February 18, 2008

When the United States and some of the members of the European Union (EU) expressed admiration for Kosovo's "patience" in its longstanding quest for a new nation state in the Balkans, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed their "naivety" with a degree of political sarcasm. "They sound as if they had never heard of the Palestinians, or let's say, the West Sahrawi," he told the Security Council.

Churkin's contention was that Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and the Polisario in Western Sahara have remained more "patient" than Albanians, and have more urgent claims for statehood than the newly- created Kosovo, Serbia's breakaway province. The Palestinians have remained homeless for over 60 years and the Polisario has been battling Morocco for a separate nation state in northern Africa since it declared a government-in-exile in February 1976.

In contrast, Kosovo's rising cry for independence goes back primarily to its conflict with Serbs in 1998-99. The break-up of Yugoslavia took place about 17 years before.

So far, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been walking a political tightrope, refusing to make any judgments on the ongoing dispute. Asked Monday if the declaration of independence of Kosovo was legal or illegal, Ban avoided a direct answer. "I'm not here to say if it is legal or illegal," he responded bluntly.

But Churkin took a passing shot at the secretary-general when he hinted that the U.N. Secretariat might be taking sides on the issue. "We are aware of the attempts to make use of the office of the U.N. secretary- general in order to provide the EU Mission under preparation with some semblance of legal competence," he said. "We consider such efforts unacceptable in view of the serious damage that could be inflicted to the neutrality and legitimacy of the U.N. role in the settlement of regional conflicts in the world, including those that are far from Balkans."

The five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia -- remain divided over U.N. recognition of Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) Sunday.

The three Western nations -- U.S., Britain and France -- have expressed their support for the recognition of Kosovo, potentially the U.N.'s 193rd member state. During a visit to Tanzania over the weekend, U.S. President George W. Bush tried to soothe the angry Serbs by saying "the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America."

But both Russia and China are strongly opposed to any recognition, thereby derailing Kosovo's chances of joining the world body. At the same time, three non-permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council -- namely Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam -- have also expressed reservations over Kosovo.

Russia -- which is protective of Serbs who are a minority in Kosovo -- is conscious of the political implications of the Kosovo UDI for the separatist movement within its own borders, in Chechnya. The Russians have threatened to use their veto to prevent the U.N. from giving its political blessings to the new nation state.

Addressing an emergency meeting of the Security Council Monday, Churkin said: "The illegal acts of the Kosovo Albanian leadership's and of those who support them set a dangerous precedent."

China, another veto-wielding member, fears possible UDI by Taiwan and Tibet, both of which the Chinese claim are under its sovereignty and jurisdiction. Liu Jianchao, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said in Beijing: "Kosovo's unilateral act could produce a series of results that will lead to a seriously negative influence on peace and stability in the Balkan region." China, he said, is "deeply concerned" about this.

The UDI by Kosovo is also threatening to raise a political hornet's nest outside European borders. Sri Lanka, which has long fought a Tamil separatist movement in its northern and eastern provinces, has warned that Kosovo's declaration of independence could set "an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations" and is a violation of the U.N. charter which guarantees sovereignty of nation states.

Since the 1960s, the Philippines has been fighting the Moro National Liberation Front seeking a Muslim nation-state in Sulu Mindanao. The Thai government has been battling the Pattani United Liberation Front, founded in 1968, and whose ultimate objective is a Muslim state in southern Thailand. In Europe, the reservations over Kosovo's independence have come from Romania, Spain, Greece, Slovakia and Cyprus -- some of whom are either facing potential secessionists or distraught minorities.

Russia has warned that it will retaliate against Kosovo's independence by recognising the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are now integral parts of Georgia, a U.N. member state. "Europe after centuries of wars and feuds opted ultimately for international legality as its foundation," says Churkin. Any departure from this basic principle would be fraught with "unpredictable repercussions for the whole continent."

The Russian envoy also pointed out that attempts to decide the future of peoples through arbitrary interpretation of international law and unilateral steps bypassing the U.N., out of "political expediency," are "destructive to the collective effort to strengthen international anti-crisis capacities based on the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter."

"One cannot restrict democracy and the rule of law solely to domestic processes and apply at the same time monopolist and unlawful methods in international affairs," he argued.

Since 1999, Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate governed by Security Council resolution 1244."Any wanton steps bypassing the Security Council to reform at the international presences in Kosovo or to change their mandates with the purpose of formalising or giving support to a unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo would run counter to international law, above all to the Charter of the United Nations, and the universal principles of peacekeeping," Churkin told delegates.

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