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U.N. Nudges Serbia into Talks over Breakaway Kosovo

Aprille Muscara

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2010 (IPS) - In a much-anticipated vote Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously passed a compromise draft resolution aimed at reopening talks, facilitated by the European Union, between Belgrade and Pristina.

“This resolution marks a new phase for both Serbia and Kosovo,” British permanent representative to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant told reporters after the vote. “It marks a departure from the past… in the interest of wider regional peace and security.”

The “status neutral” resolution, a watered-down version of its controversial original, reflects drastic last-minute changes to its language and sponsorship, following mounting pressure for its withdrawal or amendment by, among others, the EU, which both Belgrade and Pristina seek to join.

On Wednesday evening, EU high representative Catherine Ashton and Serbian president Boris Tadic announced that the original draft had been revised and would be co-sponsored by Serbia and the EU.

Thursday’s resolution takes note of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s Jul. 22 non-binding ruling that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.

However, the original draft, submitted by Serbia in late July, implicitly disputed the ICJ advisory opinion and defended its own territorial integrity. It included the contentious line: “One-sided secession cannot be an accepted way for resolving territorial issues.”

Despite the compromise, Belgrade has stressed that its concession does not indicate its recognition or support of Kosovo’s independence.

“Come what may, Serbia’s resolve shall not pass,” Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said during the vote. “We will not tire because we must not fail. Though our challenges remain formidable, so does our strength.”

Originally scheduled at 3 p.m. EST, the vote was delayed for some two and a half hours due to Serbia’s objection to the attendance of the Kosovar delegation, led by President Fatmir Sejdiu and which included Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni.

Kosovo is not a U.N. member state or an official observer, and thus has no reserved place inside the general assembly chamber. The delegation was eventually seated in the public gallery as guests of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States.

Following the ICJ ruling, Pristina and Belgrade have escalated their diplomatic showdown over the breakaway Balkan territory, lobbying member states and seeking commitments of support.

At an Aug. 3 Security Council meeting presided over by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, a steadfast Serbian ally, Hyseni formally requested the replacement of Security Council resolution 1244, which established U.N. administration over Kosovo after NATO air raids against Serb forces put an end to Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing campaign in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

“I would not hold one’s breath in expectation that 1244 is going to be changed, or modified or repealed,” Churkin told reporters after the meeting.

Serbia and Russia are among the 122 U.N. member states that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence; the remaining member states, including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU members, do.

“Seventy countries have already recognised Kosovo and we hope that other countries will also now do so given that the ICJ has clarified the position that the declaration of independence was not in violation of international law or resolution 1244,” Grant said.

At a press conference in early August, Hyseni told reporters that he expected “dozens” of member states to recognise Kosovo’s independence as a result of the ICJ ruling. Since then, only one country – Honduras – has done so, despite Kosovo’s efforts, and perhaps because of Serbia’s.

“The important thing will be that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina can start,” Ashton said in a statement Wednesday. “This dialogue will in itself be a factor for peace, security and stability in the region.”

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