Protecting Human Ecology, EU Rejects "Very Dangerous" Kosovo Partition
VIANA DO CASTELO, Portugal (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers warned on Friday against a partition of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, arguing it could reignite costly destructive conflicts across the Balkans.
Russia, which has blocked a U.N.-backed plan to put Kosovo on the road to independence, said last week it could accept a partition of the province if accepted by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and by Belgrade.
But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said any such move, which would be most likely to involve splitting off north Kosovo where many Serbs live, could spark similar separatist demands from ethnic groups in neighboring Bosnia and elsewhere in the region.
"It is very dangerous ... you would open up something for the future that would be very difficult to handle," Bildt, a former Bosnia administrator, told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Portuguese coastal town of Viana do Castelo.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a former U.N. governor in Kosovo, declared: "To my mind, it is ruled out."
Kosovo, administered by the United Nations since NATO bombs drove out Serb forces conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1999, is home to two million Albanians and 100,000 Serbs.
A partition would undermine any prospect of a multi-ethnic Kosovo and could prompt an exodus of Serbs from their enclaves in the south of the province and around the capital Pristina.
It would also heighten fears of the emergence of a "Greater Albania" uniting Albanian-populated lands in the Balkans, a prospect that would alarm countries such as Macedonia with a substantial Albanian minority.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters: "Neither of the parties (Serbia or Kosovo) has proposed partition nor has any party in the international community."
The EU ministers will discuss Kosovo on Saturday, hoping to avert a damaging split over how to respond to a possible unilateral declaration of independence by the province if last-ditch talks due to end on December 10 fail to reach a deal.
They will seek to reinforce German EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger as he tries to broker an improbable agreement between Serbs and Albanians, along with U.S. and Russian envoys.
Ministers are acutely aware that 16 years after Europeans failed to prevent war in the Balkans, a rift over how to resolve the intractable dispute would deal a blow to the credibility of the bloc's emerging common foreign policy as it looks to take over policing tasks in Kosovo from the United Nations.
If an agreement backed by a U.N. Security Council mandate proves impossible because of Russian-backed Serbian resistance, EU states would have to decide whether to recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians.
Spain, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania are among those seen having most difficulty in doing so, either because of their geographical proximity to the Balkans or fears it could encourage separatists within their own borders.
Bildt also spoke on Friday against recognizing a possible unilateral declaration of independence: "If people around the world declare independence we do not normally recognize them."
The position of the EU could prove vital. Diplomats working on Kosovo believe its leadership would only go ahead with a unilateral declaration with support from Washington -- which in turn would like to see the EU follow suit.
Rehn called on all parties -- including the United States and Russia -- to avoid unilateral action. Bildt said: "If Europe is ready to take the lead I think that lead will be respected by Washington."
(Additional reporting by Marcin Grajewski)
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