SOFIA (AFP) — Tensions ran high as Serbian and Kosovo officials came face-to-face Thursday for the first time since Kosovo declared independence -- a move Belgrade said it would challenge at the International Court of Justice.
"Let me tell you loud and clear: for as long as Serbia is, Kosovo shall never be," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers in Sofia, attended by a Kosovo delegation.
"Kosovo will not be a member of the United Nations. It will not be a member of the OSCE. And as such it will not belong to the world community of sovereign nations. It will never acquire this ultimate status of legitimacy," he said.
Jeremic told AFP Belgrade would ask the International Court of Justice to ascertain "whether or not this (declaration of independence) was done in compliance with international law."
The minister also urged the international community not to recognise Kosovo until the ICJ had made its ruling.
Jeremic warned that Kosovo's "illegal attempt" to secede from Serbia would create instability throughout the region and encourage separatist movements around the world.
Serb Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, meanwhile, said the very establishment of the steering group, which met in Vienna, was a "brutal" imposition.
"The illegal setting-up of an international steering group... represents a most brutal violation of international law," Kostunica said in a statement.
He called on UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to "produce the precise legal documentary basis" upon which the decision to form the group had been taken.
Jeremic hit out at the international community for asking Serbia to choose between Kosovo and the European Union -- although in a Spanish newspaper interview, President Boris Tadic said Belgrade would "not give up Kosovo, or EU membership."
Jeremic also lambasted Balkan countries for succumbing to outside pressure and recognising Kosovo.
"Deals have been made, pressure has been exerted, arms have been twisted -- throughout the region, across Europe and around the world," Jeremic added.
"There is no Kosovo delegation here. There is only a UNMIK delegation," a Serb delegate in Vienna told AFP, referring to the UN mission that has run Kosovo since 1999.
But Kosovo's Regional and European Integration coordinator Besim Beqaj rejected any such interpretation.
"We are also going to request the full participation of the Republic of Kosovo from now on in all regional initiatives," he said.
The steering group comprises Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.
Serbia and Kosovo were both part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia that was torn to pieces by ethnic wars in the 1990s.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17.
The issue has polarised the Balkans, with Albania and Turkey throwing their weight behind the new state and Bulgaria and Croatia preparing to follow suit.
By contrast, Romania and Moldova have backed Serbia, while Greece, Macedonia and Bosnia have expressed reservations.
There have been suggestions of a possible partition of northern Kosovo, where some 40,000 ethnic Serbians live.
But the EU's special representative for Kosovo, Pieter Feith, ruled out any form of partition.
"There will be no partition of the country, that's not foreseen," he said in Vienna at the first-ever meeting of an International Steering Group for Kosovo.
In Kosovo's ethnically-divided northern town of Mitrovica protests continued Thursday and there was an explosion outside the UN court there in the late evening.
No one was injured in the fifth such incident of the past fortnight, although two cars were damaged.
Serb employees of the court were demonstrating for the ninth successive day against the UN's presence in Kosovo.
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