EU decides to send mission to Kosovo

Other News Materials 15 December 2007 11:21 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - European Union leaders agreed on Friday to send administrators and police to Kosovo ahead of

its expected secession from Serbia, which branded the mission an attempt to create a "puppet state" on its soil.

In a bid to soothe Balkan tensions over Kosovo's push for independence, they offered Serbia a fast-track route to EU entry once it met conditions for signing a first-step accord on ties.

But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the offer was an insult and said recognition of Kosovo's independence would be "the most dangerous precedent since World War Two.

"It is especially insulting to offer a crippled Serbia the reward of fast-track to the EU in exchange for its consent to violence," Kostunica said in a statement released in Belgrade.

EU leaders declared after a one-day summit that negotiations on Kosovo's future were exhausted, the status quo was untenable and there was a need to move towards a Kosovo settlement. They stopped short of endorsing independence.

"We took a political decision to send an ESDP mission to Kosovo. This is the clearest signal the EU could possibly give that Europe intends to lead on Kosovo and the future of the region," Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, the summit chairman, told a news conference.

ESDP is the European Security and Defence Policy. The 1,800-strong mission involves police, justice officials and civilian administrators.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the decision would be implemented after EU foreign ministers next meet on Jan. 28, the clearest indication of when the force could start to deploy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters there was a general understanding that Kosovo's independence was inevitable.

But diplomats said Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania all object to recognising Kosovo's sovereignty without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"I want to make clear we are not supporting the declaration of Kosovo's independence. Any agreement on Kosovo must be done with the blessing of the Serbs," Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos told reporters, acknowledging it still made sense to begin preparations for the EU police mission.

A day after signing a treaty to end a long institutional stalemate, EU leaders switched focus to challenges posed by the Balkans -- a test of the EU's hopes of strengthening its foreign policy clout -- and by globalisation and immigration.

On Serbia's bid to join the 27-nation bloc, the final summit communique said: "(The European Council) reiterated its confidence that progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated."

The signing of an SAA with Belgrade has been held up by its failure to transfer Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic to a U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague on genocide charges.

Outgoing chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte urged EU leaders in Belgium's Le Soir not to be lenient on Belgrade and maintain firm pressure on it to deliver indictees.

"I am stupefied by the attitude of France, Germany and Italy who want to soften their position. As decisions must be taken by unanimity, I am counting on Belgium and the Netherlands to remain tough," she told the newspaper.

Sarkozy replied angrily that France was a firm backer of the U.N. tribunal but Serbia should not be isolated in Europe.

"Let us not confuse the search for war criminals or suspects and the possibility of a country such as Serbia joining the EU one day," he said. "If that is all Mrs Del Ponte is stupefied about than frankly she is doing okay."

Signing the agreement requires unanimity in the EU and Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters: "I want Mladic on a plane to the Hague before I will sign the SAA."

Separately, EU leaders named former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez to head a new "reflection group" to discuss the long-term future of the EU on issues ranging from enlargement to climate change and regional stability, diplomats said. Latvian ex-President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and the chairman of mobile phone company Nokia Jorma Ollila were named as two vice-chairs of the panel due to report in June 2010, they said.