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Serbia calls Kosovo independence bid ‘invalid’

Serbia's government on Thursday denounced any unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence — expected within days — as "invalid and void."
Image: A Serb boy runs in the village of Dobrotin in Kosovo
A Serb boy runs between a policeman and an Irish KFOR peacekeeper as they patrol the isolated village of Dobrotin, Kosovo, on Thursday. Serbia on Thursday said any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo would be illegal. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the nation would not be humiliated by a "puppet state" on its territory. Damir Sagolj / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Serbia's government on Thursday denounced any unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence — expected within days — as "invalid and void."

Serbia issued the defiant declaration just hours before the U.N. Security Council was to meet in New York to discuss Kosovo at Belgrade's request.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership is expected to declare independence on Sunday or Monday — a move the Serbian government said would "represent a flagrant and unilateral act of secession of a part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and is therefore invalid and void."

The government demanded that the Security Council "immediately annul" any declaration of independence by the province, and it denounced a European Union plan to dispatch a 1,800-member police and judiciary mission to help Kosovo establish statehood.

"Kosovo remains an inalienable part of Serbia," Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told reporters, warning that Serbia will "expand, strengthen and beef up" its presence in Kosovo.

Cradle of Serbia's medieval statehood
Serbia wants to keep hold of Kosovo — which it considers the cradle of its medieval statehood and religion — although it has had no control over the province since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign to end a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels.

The U.S. and most EU nations support statehood for the U.N.-run province, where 90 percent of the population of 2 million is ethnic Albanian.

However, Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, opposes recognizing Kosovo statehood, calling it a dangerous precedent to set for separatists worldwide. Bosnia's Serbs also oppose the move, with their leader warning of unrest in Bosnia in the wake of Kosovo's declaration.

With a Kosovo declaration imminent, Serbia already has endorsed a secret "Action Plan" to be implemented when the province declares independence.

The plan is believed to include retaliatory steps to keep Serb-populated areas under Belgrade's control — a move that would result in a de facto partitioning of the province.

The 100,000 Serbs living in Kosovo will remain "citizens of Serbia and have the full right not to recognize any illegal declarations of unilateral independence" by Kosovo's Albanians, the Serbian resolution said.

The plan contains no provisions for military action against Kosovo, now policed by 16,000 NATO troops.

‘What Serbia does is irrelevant’
In Pristina, Kosovo's capital, a lawmaker said the Serbian resolution would have no bearing on Kosovo's intention to declare independence.

"What Serbia does is irrelevant," legislator Vlora Citaku said. "Serbia can only invalidate decisions of its own assembly. Kosovo has its own path, and one that is internationally supported."

In April 2007, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari recom‘mended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence.

But the internationally mediated talks that followed failed to yield an agreement between the ethnic Albanian leadership, which pushed for full statehood, and Serbia, which was willing to offer only wide autonomy.

Kosovo now is expected to declare independence unilaterally — which Serbia says would violate the U.N. resolution on Kosovo and encroach on Serbia's territorial integrity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that it would set a dangerous precedent.

"I will yet again emphasize that we consider that unilateral support for independence for Kosovo is immoral and illegal," he said in Moscow.