Serbia warns of contagion if Kosovo allowed to go

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 (Reuters) Serbia warned the United Nations today of ''unforeseeable consequences'' that could destabilize the world if the breakaway province of Kosovo declares independence unilaterally later this year.

Serbian President Boris Tadic urged the UN General Assembly to avoid creating a dangerous legal precedent on the day foreign ministers of six major powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy -- were to meet in New York on the future of Kosovo.

Tadic said Kosovo Albanian leaders were threatening to declare independence on Dec 11 if talks brokered by the major powers failed, and he warned the world against recognition.

''Following a one-sided recognition of Kosovo's independence, the international legal order would never be the same,'' he said.

Separatist movements everywhere would seize on the precedent.

''Many regions of the world would be destabilized that way,'' he said.

Tadic reaffirmed Belgrade's position that independence for Kosovo was unacceptable and said Serbia was willing to offer broad autonomy in line with European norms -- a stance the West calls unrealistic and Kosovo's 2 million Albanians reject.

NATO waged an air war to drive Serbian forces out of the province in 1999 and end ethnic cleansing against the Albanians in Belgrade's crackdown on separatist guerrillas. Kosovo has been in legal limbo under UN supervision since then.

Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders are due to hold their first face-to-face talks under the mediation of the six-power Contact Group in New York tomorrow in a negotiating process due to conclude on Dec 10. Chances of a deal appear remote.

AHTISAARI PLAN British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters a plan for European Union-supervised independence for Kosovo drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari remained the basis for a solution.

Issues such as minority rights, administrative devolution and constitutional provisions were open to negotiation, he said.

US officials say they expect the United States and the vast majority of the 27 EU member states to recognize a Kosovo declaration of independence if negotiations fail despite the diplomatic efforts of Contact Group mediators.

Russia backs Serbia's rejection of independence and used the threat of a veto in July to force the United States, France and Britain to drop a planned UN Security Council resolution endorsing the Ahtisaari plan.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said ultimately the European Union would have to decide on Kosovo's status, since it would have to bear the consequences of the outcome.

''This is a European problem,'' he told reporters. ''This is not a Russian problem, neither an American problem, and we'll be -- European Union -- the one to decide because we'll be the one facing the problems at the end of the year.'' Both Kouchner and Miliband said it was crucial to maintain the unity of the EU's 27 nations. Several EU states with ethnic minority or separatist issues -- Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Cyprus and, to a lesser extent, Spain -- have misgivings about recognizing Kosovo's independence without a UN resolution.

Reuters PD DB2156

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