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Europe

Serbia Ties EU Bid to Kosovo Issue

Serbia's prime minister has said his country's EU membership depends on Brussels recognizing Serbia and Kosovo as a single entity and expressed hostility to an international mission to monitor independence in Kosovo.

Serbs on the streets of Vienna protesting against Kosovo's independence

Serbs took to the streets of Austria's capital, Vienna to protest against Kosovo's independence

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica repeated his stance that Belgrade will not discuss EU membership unless Brussels recognized Serbia and Kosovo as a single state.

Backed by Russia, Serbia and Kosovo's 120,000 remaining Serbs continue to reject the Western-backed secession.

"For us ... [it is] clear -- when it comes to any further negotiations on EU membership it means for us only Serbia with Kosovo,' he told the Russia Today TV channel on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Kostunica has already frozen Serbia's EU membership bid over the Western support of Kosovo's independence, declared on Feb. 17. Serbia has also recalled ambassadors for consultations from the 20 countries that have recognized Kosovo so far.

Belgrade's relations with the West have been chilly in the wake of last week's riots targeting the US and other embassies representing countries that Serbian nationalists consider to be hostile.

Face-to-face

At a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers in Sofia, Serbian and Kosovar officials came face-to-face Thursday for the first time since Kosovo declared independence.

"Let me tell you loud and clear: for as long as Serbia is, Kosovo shall never be," warned Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. "Kosovo will not be a member of the United Nations. It will not be a member of the OSCE. And as such it will not belong to the world community of sovereign nations. It will never acquire this ultimate status of legitimacy," he said.

According to AFP, Jeremic also said that Belgrade would ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ascertain "whether or not this [declaration of independence] was done in compliance with international law."

The minister called on the international community not to recognize Kosovo until the ICJ had made its ruling, stressing that Kosovo's "illegal attempt" to secede from Serbia would create instability throughout the region and encourage separatist movements around the world.

Jeremic also criticized the international community for asking Serbia to choose between Kosovo and the EU, and slammed Balkan countries for succumbing to outside pressure and recognizing Kosovo.

"Deals have been made, pressure has been exerted, arms have been twisted -- throughout the region, across Europe and around the world," Jeremic added.

Russia lambastes EU mission

German soldiers in Kosovo

Germany's Bundeswehr has 2000 troops in Kosovo

The EU's mission to Kosovo, EULEX, is set to swing into action soon. The mission, seen as an EU effort to assist Kosovo's government in developing a stable and multi-ethnic democracy, was deemed "illegal" by Russia at the UN Security Council on Thursday.

Composed of more than 2,000 police officers, judges and prosecutors, the mission will be cooperating with NATO forces in Kosovo to maintain stability there.

Along with Serbia, Russia strongly opposes the EU presence in Kosovo, charging that it violates international law and UN resolutions.

Germany, moreover, has decided to send more troops to Kosovo, a Bundeswehr source said on Friday. The extra soldiers would be deployed from the state of Bavaria in the next few days as part of a training exercise, but the transfer was also meant to demonstrate the force's strength in the context of recent violence, the source said.

Germany already has more than 2,000 troops in Kosovo which are part of the 16,000-plus NATO-led KFOR security force.

ISG meeting

Serbia's President Boris Tadic, right, speaks with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica during parliament session in Belgrade.

Serbian leaders plan to reject EU membership if the West recognizes the independence of Kosovo

Again with Russia's backing, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica, meanwhile, has been railing against the establishment of the International Steering Group, meeting in the Austrian capital Vienna on Thursday for the first time, to monitor Kosovo's progress after its declaration of independence.

"The illegal setting-up of an international steering group ... represents a most brutal violation of international law," Kostunica said in a statement.

He called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "produce the precise legal documentary basis" upon which the decision to form the group had been taken.

The primary task of the ISG will be to monitor the plan presented by UN Kosovo negotiator Martti Ahtisaari by the authorities of the newly independent former Serbian province.

Ahtisaari envisaged the formation of the ISG in his status proposal, which foresaw internationally monitored independence for Kosovo with special protection mechanisms for the Serbian minority population and Serbian cultural heritage.

The former Finnish president's plan met with strong opposition from Belgrade and was subsequently rejected by Russia in the UN Security Council.

The steering group is made up of Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

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