Serbia's newly elected parliament has overwhelmingly voted against a UN plan on the future of its breakaway province of Kosovo as a violation of the country's territorial integrity.
After a lengthy debate, 225 of 244 deputies present at the session voted to adopt the outgoing government's resolution condemning UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's proposal for the future status of Kosovo. Fifteen deputies were against the resolution while the others abstained from voting.
Voting for the resolution, the parliament also adopted a platform for Belgrade's position in final talks starting next week on Kosovo, the southern Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority impatient for independence. The parliament also verified a mandate for Belgrade's negotiating team, expected to meet for talks with Pristina representatives and UN officials next week in Vienna.
Ahtisaari presented his plan to Belgrade and Pristina on Feb. 2, after almost a year of fruitless negotiations between the two sides. The plan, which avoids the word independence but offers Kosovo self-governance and the right to join international organizations, has been welcomed by the province's ethnic Albanian leaders.
Violating international law?
The Serbian resolution says, however, that it "violates basic principles of international law as it does not respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia."
Analyst Cedomir Antic however warned that such principles in the resolution were "senseless" as Serbia's team would take part in UN-led talks in Vienna.
"Both the authorities and the opposition actually do not want to share responsibility and guilt for everything that has happened in Kosovo," Antic told private B92 television.
During the debate, speaker after speaker addressed the assembly in a notably solemn session about the province that Serbs consider their country's historic heartland.
Defending the motherland
"To accept this proposal ... would be contrary to the constitution," said Serbian President Boris Tadic, who has already admitted the plan paves the way for Kosovo's independence. But Tadic said he was "convinced that Serbia should participate in the Vienna talks," despite Belgrade's opposition to Ahtisaari's plan.
"This is not the Serbia of Milosevic," said Bozidar Djelic, prime ministerial candidate of Tadic's Democratic Party, according to Reuters news service. "We want Serbia to be part of the European Union, part of the world. But we cannot do anything else but defend the unity of our motherland, in particular Kosovo."
Fear of violence
Kosovo has been managed by a UN mission since mid-1999, when three months of bombing by NATO ended a crackdown by Serbian forces loyal to then president Slobodan Milosevic on the province's ethnic Albanians.
The resolution, which was proposed by the outgoing government of moderate nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, sought Kosovo negotiations "without pressure and artificially imposed deadlines."
Serbia, which lost four wars in the 1990s, is clinging to the hope that its traditional ally Russia will use its veto to block any UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo's independence.
Ahtisaari has said he expects Kosovo's status to be settled well before the end of June, despite delays caused by the Serbian elections and a referendum on a constitution that declares Kosovo an "integral" part of the country. The international community fears any further delays could spark violence in the province.
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