Serbia: EU warns Kosovo against declaring independence

By Matt Robinson

PRISTINA, Serbia, June 21 (Reuters) - The European Union warned Kosovo on Thursday against an "irresponsible" declaration of independence after Russia again rejected a Western-backed United Nations resolution that would effectively grant the move.

EU Kosovo envoy Stefan Lehne said it "would be a huge step backwards" if Kosovo Albanian leaders were to take the issue into their own hands.

"Unilateral action or other irresponsible behaviour in Kosovo would take away all the goodwill that you have received," he told reporters after meeting the ethnic Albanian president of Serbia's breakaway southern province, Fatmir Sejdiu.

"It will not help you overcome the remaining obstacles but build many, many more," Lehne said.

EU foreign ministers discussed the deadlock with Russia at a summit in Brussels and stuck to the EU line that the West should continue efforts to get a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"We are trying to avoid a veto. We are sticking to our position that we need a (U.N. Security Council) resolution," said Luxembourg Foreign minister Jean Asselborn after the talks.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said: "More or less most of us believe that more time is needed. We should take it and give the negotiations a chance."

Public pressure is building on the leaders of Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority to declare independence. Diplomatic stalemate between the West and Russia has blocked a U.N. plan that would lead to statehood, eight years after NATO drove out Serb forces and the United Nations took control.

Russia on Wednesday declared "unacceptable" the West's third draft of a resolution for the U.N. Security Council, which called for a further 120 days of Serb-Albanian talks.

This would be on top of 13 months of negotiations that ended in March with no compromise whatever on the central issue -- Serbia's total opposition to the Albanians' bottom-line demand.

The latest draft proposed that if there was still no deal, the plan by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari for EU-supervised independence would take effect.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called for the resolution to be withdrawn. Serbia is ready for talks, he said in a statement, but without conditions.

"A new resolution is not needed to restart talks, only the good will to sit at the table and search for compromise."

Russia's rejection increased pressure on Kosovo's main supporters, the United States and the EU, to consider backing a unilateral declaration of independence or risk potentially serious unrest among Kosovo's two million Albanians.

Security is in the hands of 16,000 NATO soldiers.

Washington has indicated it would support such a step, but the 27-member EU fears its fragile unity on the issue would crumble and it would not have a legal basis to take over supervision of Kosovo from the eight-year-old U.N. mission.

(Additional reporting by Ljiljana Cvekic in Belgrade and David Brunnstrom and Mark John in Brussels)


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