Germany urges whole EU to back Kosovo independence

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Friday urged the European Union to present a united front in backing Kosovo as a state independent from Serbia.

After talks with political leaders in Pristina, Westerwelle told reporters that concerns that Kosovo could serve as an international precedent for other peoples seeking autonomy were unfounded.

"The recognition of Kosovo is a case sui generis (unique) and this is a clear message, also to the European Union," he said on the third and final day of a tour of the former Yugoslavia.

He noted that 22 of the 27 EU member states had recognised Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, a "reality" confirmed last month by the International Court of Justice in a non-binding opinion.

"Five others are hesitating," Westerwelle said. "And we ask them after the clear decision of the international court to follow the majority in the European Union. It is a clear majority."

Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Cyprus have not recognised Kosovo, with Spain in particular fearing that it could serve as an example to incite its own separatist movements.

Serbia has rejected Kosovo's secession and still considers the Albanian-majority territory its own province.

The dispute is heading for a showdown at the United Nations next month, with duelling resolutions that Belgrade and Pristina aim to present at the General Assembly.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said at a joint press conference that Kosovo was willing to engage in direct talks with the Serbian leadership.

"Kosovo is building excellent relations with all neighbours... and has expressed readiness to have bilateral state relations with Serbia in order to pave a shorter and clear way toward integration in NATO and the EU," he said.

Westerwelle warned Serbia Thursday during a stop in Belgrade that it had no chance of joining the EU unless it adopted a "cooperative" stance on Kosovo.

He reiterated Friday in a speech to the Kosovo parliament that all the countries of the Western Balkans had a future in the bloc if they had cleared its established hurdles to membership.

"The day will come when a representative of Kosovo will sit at a table in Brussels with a representative of Serbia, to shape the future of the European Union together with Germany and other member states," he said.

Germany participated in a NATO air campaign to end the 1998-99 war between separatist Kosovo Albanians and then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's security forces, in its first offensive military action since World War II.

Berlin has the largest international contingent serving with the NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo with about 1,400 troops.

Westerwelle was to visit their base in Prizren and the Serb enclave Gracanica outside Pristina before returning to Berlin.

© 2010 AFP

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