SERBIA, KOSOVO TARGET ISLAMIC NATIONS AHEAD OF KEY U.N. VOTE
By Patrick Goodenough

CNSNews.com
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
VA

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic speaks to the media at the United
Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. (AP
Photo)(CNSNews.com) - The bitter dispute between Serbia and newly
independent Kosovo comes before the United Nations next week, and
both sides have been aiming their lobbying efforts at Islamic nations.

Serbia wants the General Assembly to back its request for the
International Court of Justice to give an "advisory opinion" on whether
its southern province's unilateral declaration of independence is in
line with international law.

A U.N. committee earlier agreed to include the matter on the agenda,
and a debate and vote has now been set for October 8. A simple majority
in the 192-member assembly will be sufficient for the case to go to
the International Court of Justice. Based in The Hague, the ICJ rules
on disputes between states.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia last February, nine years
after NATO went to war to end Serb aggression against the province's
ethnic Albanian Muslim majority.

Pristina subsequently has won recognition from 47 mostly Western
countries. Ironically, despite the fact that around 90 percent of
Kosovo's two million people are Muslims, only six members of the
57-state Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have recognized
its independence.

The day after the independence declaration, OIC secretary-general
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a statement declaring "our solidarity
with and support to our brothers and sisters there."

"There is no doubt that the independence of Kosovo will be an asset
to the Muslim world and will further enhance joint Islamic action,"
he said.

But at an OIC summit in Dakar, Senegal, less than a month later, OIC
heads of state resisted an initiative led by Turkey and merely voiced
"solidarity," leaving recognition up to individual member states.

The only six to have taken the step so far are Turkey, Albania,
Afghanistan, Burkino Faso, Sierra Leone and Senegal.

Analysts attribute the Islamic states' unwillingness to support
Kosovo to a reluctance to anger Russia, Serbia's historical ally,
which strongly opposed the independence move.

In mid-March, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said before beginning a
Middle East visit that Moscow was urging Muslim states to withstand
pressure to recognize Kosovo, a state he said had been "illegally
formed."

"I would like to warn against the temptation to give in to calls
from non-Arab and non-Islamic states addressed to Islamic countries
to show Islamic solidarity and recognize Kosovo," he told the state
newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Lavrov also pointed to unrest taking place in Tibet at the time,
suggesting that Kosovo's breakaway had helped to trigger the "disorder"
in the Chinese-ruled region.

Some Kosovars have voiced dismay at the Islamic states' hesitancy.

"We strongly believe that the support we got from the international
community to gain our freedom is the largest miracle of Allah and
the largest sign of his mercy towards his people in Kosovo," Blerim
Gashi, public information officer of the Kosovar-Arab friendship
and economic cooperation chamber, wrote in a recent article on the
al-Arabiya television channel's Web site.

"We do hope that our brothers in faith will take their rightful place
on our side."

Separatist concerns

In the run-up to and during the U.N. General Assembly session now
underway in New York, Serbian and Kosovo politicians have been urging
Islamic and other governments to back their position.

En route to New York, Kosovo Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni visited
Saudi Arabia where he met with Ihsanoglu and "expressed the hope that
more OIC member states would recognize the independence of Kosovo,"
the Jeddah-based OIC said in a statement.

While the Kosovar was in Jeddah, his Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic,
was in Cairo, visiting the seat of another organization, the Arab
League - all 22 of whose members are also in the OIC.

In New York, the lobbying has continued, led by the Serbian and
Kosovo presidents. Kosovo's foreign ministry said in a statement that
Hyseni had met with ministers from Malaysia and Egypt, urging them
to recognize Kosovo and vote against the Serbian resolution.

Serbia's delegation says it has held more than 50 bilateral meetings on
the sidelines of the General Assembly, and its ministers are voicing
optimism that the resolution will pass.

Belgrade's Labor Minister Rasim Ljajic told Serbian media that some
OIC and Arab League members had indicated that they would not vote
against the measure, likely abstaining instead.

An ICJ opinion will not be binding on governments, but Serbia hopes
that any ruling in its favor will make it less likely that more
nations will recognize Kosovo.

Critics of the Serbian move worry that it could drag on for years,
delaying a consolidation of diplomatic and economic support for the
new state.

Putting on a brave face, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told a
government meeting Friday he did not believe Serbia's initiative
would have any impact on the process of recognitions of Kosovo's
independence.

In its lobbying, the Serbs are appealing to countries with unresolved
territorial or separatist disputes that the "precedent" set by Kosovo
could also be taken up by secessionists elsewhere, with serious
implications for national and regional stability.

The argument has resonated in Islamic countries like Indonesia,
which has grappled with separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua,
and Azerbaijan, home to the ethnic Armenian breakaway enclave of
Nagorno-Karabakh.

Separatist concerns also lie behind the reluctance of some European
Union countries to recognize Kosovo. Only 20 of the union's 27 members
have done so, with those opposed to the move - including Spain, Cyprus
and Romania - mostly uneasy because they face their own separatist
or ethnic minority issues.

With a vote on Serbia's resolution coming up, the E.U. may struggle
to come up with a unified position once again, although few
Western countries will want to be seen not supporting an appeal to
international law.

After meeting with Jeremic in New York, Italian Foreign Minister Franco
Frattini predicted that E.U. member states would probably abstain.

European diplomats have also warned, though, that Serbia is not doing
its bid to join the E.U. any good by pursuing the matter.

The ICJ initiative "does not contribute to Belgrade's aspirations
to move closer to the E.U., since most E.U. members have recognized
Kosovo," the E.U.'s representative in Kosovo, Dutchman Pieter Feith,
said in a recent interview.