- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s coalition government was on the verge of collapse yesterday over the European Union’s plans to send a mission to Kosovo province, just days after the pro-Western Serbian president won re-election.

EU nations gave preliminary approval Monday to plans to send an 1,800-strong policing and administration mission to the breakaway province to replace the current U.N. mission, diplomats in Brussels said.

Serbia’s nationalist prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, opposes the EU mission, fearing it would be a prelude to Kosovo’s independence.

He said yesterday the planned signing of an aid-and-trade pre-membership deal with the EU, scheduled for tomorrow, would mean Serbia has approved the EU’s Kosovo mission and the province’s independence.

“The European Union’s offer to sign a political deal with Serbia while sending a mission to Kosovo that splits our country is a hoax,” Mr. Kostunica said.

He called for an urgent meeting of the nationalist-dominated Serbian parliament to reject the agreement offered by the EU, which would establish regular political and trade ties and lift visa restrictions on Serbs.

But the government faction allied with President Boris Tadic insists on signing the agreement in Brussels. Mr. Tadic won re-election Sunday by edging out an extreme nationalist in a closely contested runoff.

“After Tadic’s victory, it is clear which course the Serb people have chosen to take, and that is toward the EU membership,” said Vice Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, of Mr. Tadic’s Democratic Party.

Serbian Investment Minister Velimir Ilic, who is allied with Mr. Kostunica in the coalition, said that if Mr. Tadic’s ministers sign the agreement with the EU tomorrow, the Cabinet could fall.

“Thursday is D-day,” Mr. Ilic said. “If they sign, anything can happened with the government.”

Neither the United States nor the EU has shown any signs of backing away from their support of Kosovo’s imminent separation from Serbia.

The EU has not decided exactly when to deploy the mission to Kosovo because many member states are still seeking a formal blessing from the U.N. Security Council. That body, however, remains divided over Kosovo’s future status.

Mr. Kostunica — who refused to endorse Mr. Tadic in the election — may try to bring down the government, leading to new parliamentary elections.

He also has the option of trying to form a new Cabinet with ultranationalist Radicals, who have urged a tough response to Kosovo’s secession.

The province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since the 1999 war in Kosovo, when NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to stop its crackdown against the province’s ethnic-Albanian separatists.

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