Serbia warns US, NATO not to "snatch" Kosovo

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BELGRADE, Sep 22 (Reuters) Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica warned the United States, NATO and Kosovo Albanians today they would be responsible for devastating consequences if they ''snatch'' Kosovo and declare it independent.

Serbia is offering wide autonomy for Kosovo. The Albanians, who have been under UN rule for eight years, want full independence. They are to hold direct talks in New York next week and have until December. 10 before a report must go to the UN ''This time, they will implement a different strategy -- unilateral recognition of independent Kosovo,'' Kostunica predicted in an interview with Vecernje Novosti newspaper.

Asked what Serbia could do, Kostunica said: ''One must clearly warn of the devastating consequences of such violence, which has not happened since the UN was established. And that's what we do all the time.'' He did not elaborate, but he appeared to be speaking of ''violence'' that would be done to international law.

Kostunica said there were differences in his coalition government on how Serbia should respond to an independence declaration, but said Belgrade would focus diplomatic reprisals on NATO states that he believes instigated secession.

''We must make a difference between the main player, without whom the whole issue of independence would have never been raised. That is NATO,'' he said.

''This has nothing to do with the European Union. Not for the slightest moment have we questioned Serbia's European integration.

Besides, a number of EU members are not NATO members.'' LAST DITCH TALKS Kostunica said he believed a solution could still be found to settle the status of Kosovo on the basis of the United Nations Charter, which upholds Serbian sovereignty over the 90-per cent Albanian majority.

But ''the Albanians, supported especially by their American partners'' were simply waiting for the clock to run out on the 120-day period set for last-ditch negotiations before declaring an impasse and doing what they have planned all along, he said.

Responding to a question on whether Serbia would send in troops if Kosovo declared independence, he said: ''Our attention right now is focused on making sure there is no unilateral declaration of independence. And if it happens, to make sure that our ties with our people in the province remain unbroken.'' Only Russia ''is firm in its stand that international law must be respected'', he said. Russia had helped stop a NATO plan to grab Serb territory for the Albanians by stealth, he said.

''The intention was, swiftly, quietly and in the dark so that no one can see it, to snatch a part of territory from Serbia. We have managed to turn on the light and ignite a huge debate,'' he said.

Serbia's autonomy offer to Kosovo's two million Albanians includes no offer to restore their citizenship in Serbia.

The Albanians have no desire for it, having suffered thousands of casualties at the hands of Serb forces in 1998-99 before NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing -- an aspect of the argument rarely addressed by Kostunica.


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