Serbia's national assembly voted 220 to 14 in favor of a resolution, which stated that Serbia would not sign international treaties that did not acknowledge its territorial integrity and sovereignty over Kosovo. The vote which took place on Wednesday, Dec 26, was specifically referring to the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) which would move Serbia along the path to EU membership should it sign on next month.
As discussions began in the assembly earlier in the day, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said: "At this moment a powerful resolution which parliament will pass today must be our last line of defence from violence and unilateral independence."
Both President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, leaders of the two central parties in Serbia's center-right ruling coalition, backed the resolution, as did the nationalist Radicals and Socialists in the opposition.
But, the discussions over the resolution pitted parliament's nationalist and pro-Western parties against each other, with analysts speculating that the debate served more as a campaign platform for presidential elections in January.
"Blow to Serbia's EU ambitions"
The opposition Liberal Democratic party, led by Cedomir Jovanovic, rejected the resolution, saying the draft represented "a blow to Serbia's ambitions to become an EU member."
Pro-Western Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic expressed hope that Serbia would sign the SAA by the end of January, despite the resolution, but also without forfeiting sovereignty over Kosovo.
Serbia said it would postpone its decision on NATO membership, and said it would oppose a European Union supervisory mission ready to take over from the United Nations in Kosovo unless it won Security Council approval. Russia has already blocked the move in a bid to support its Serb ally.
"Serbia will never accept the independence of Kosovo," Tadic told parliament on Wednesday, adding that the diplomatic campaign against it would resume at a United Nations Security Council meeting scheduled for Jan. 9.
He also warned that if NATO peacekeepers failed to protect Kosovo's minority Serbs, "the Serbian Army is ready."
Kosovo ready to declare independence
Most Serbs live in northern Kosovo -- more or less already partitioned from the area dominated by the 90-percent Albanian majority. Kosovars, for their part, are preparing to declare independence in the next few months, with support from the European Union and the United States.
The United States and a number of EU countries have indicated
they will recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by
Kosovo Albanians, after the failure of almost two years of
UN-sponsored negotiations on the southern Serbian province's
The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces who had fought ethnic Albanian separatists. 10,000 civilians had perished in previous clashes and 800,000 people were driven out of the country.
Serbia, which considers Kosovo its cultural cradle, has offered the two million Albanians in the breakaway province broad autonomy, but Kosovars insist on total independence.
War criminal thought to be in Serbia
Earlier on Wednesday, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor Vladmir Vukcevic said that wartime Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was hiding in his country. He said that the "noose is tightening" around the fugitive, but said the officials did not yet know Mladic's precise location.
It was the first admission by a Serbian official that Mladic, who is wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity for his role during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, is in hiding in Serbia. In particular, Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic are wanted for the July 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.
Belgrade has repeatedly claimed it does not know Mladic's whereabouts. However, Carla Del Ponte, the outgoing chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands, has insisted he is in Serbia.