West gives Serbia tough message on Kosovo

BELGRADE Tue Aug 31, 2010 6:59pm BST

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Britain stepped up diplomatic pressure on Serbia on Tuesday to focus on its European Union future rather than continue to contest the independence of its former province Kosovo, which seceded two years ago.

British Foreign Minister William Hague held talks in the Serbian capital days after his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle delivered a tough message during his own visit that Serbia should acknowledge the reality of Kosovo's independence.

"The place for Serbia and other Western Balkan nations is in the EU," Hague told a news conference. "On the Kosovo issue we have not succeeded in aligning our views but we successfully exchanged opinions. In examining this question, it is important for Serbia to work closely with EU high representatives."

The latest British and German diplomacy comes ten days before the United Nations is scheduled to debate a Serbian resolution on the status of Kosovo.

"What we really need is an agreed text and agreed approach and probably the best way to bring that about is to have a new resolution," Hague said.

Most EU member states and the United States recognise the independence of Kosovo.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed it to halt the killing of ethnic Albanians in a two-year war. After nine years as an international protectorate, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic often travels to countries with few traditional ties to Belgrade to highlight the issue. For example, on Monday Jeremic visited South Africa, thanking the country for not recognising Kosovo.

"We are ready to discuss in the best will how to achieve wider support for the resolution, but the option that is not on the table for this government is the option to withdraw the resolution," Jeremic said in a joint news conference with Hague.

EU impatience with Serbia grew after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, acting at Belgrade's request, issued an advisory opinion in July that Kosovo did not break international law by declaring independence.

Serbia is asking the United Nations in New York to back a resolution that would in effect counter the ICJ opinion.

The EU and United States would like Serbia to hold talks with Kosovo on practical issues. For example, the Kosovo government does not have control over half the city of Mitrovica, where a river divides the ethnic Serb population from Kosovo Albanians.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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