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    Kosovo independence will open up Pandora's box - Russia's Ivanov

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    Russia's defense minister said granting independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo may set a dangerous precedent, triggering disintegration of other states across Eurasia.

    SEVILLE, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's defense minister said granting independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo may set a dangerous precedent, triggering disintegration of other states across Eurasia.

    "This may spark a chain reaction and open up Pandora's box," Sergei Ivanov said during a meeting with his German counterpart, Franz Josef Jung, in advance of a Russia-NATO Council meeting in the southern Spanish city of Seville.

    Earlier this month, the United Nations mediator on Kosovo's future status, Martti Ahtisaari, unveiled his Kosovo settlement plan, containing an implicit proposal to give independence to the predominantly ethnic Albanian region, which has been a UN protectorate since 1999. Belgrade has rejected the plan, saying it is willing to grant Kosovo broad autonomy, but that it will never let the province secede from Serbia.

    Ivanov said: "It all depends on how we approach the principle of territorial integrity. We can approach it from the point of view of the current political situation, or take territorial integrity as an inviolable principle."

    "If hypothetically we suppose Kosovo is given independence, people in other unrecognized regions will wonder, 'So why not us as well?'"

    Officials in Moscow have repeatedly indicated that if Kosovo is granted sovereignty, the international community should also recognize as independent the separatist regions in the former Soviet Union, notably Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moldova's Transdnestr.

    However, Germany's defense minister reiterated his support for Ahtisaari's Kosovo settlement plan, saying all sides concerned should join forces to push the plan through the 15-nation UN Security Council before the end of March.

    But a senior member of the lower house of Russia's parliament warned on Friday against rushing the issue.

    Konstantin Kosachev, head of the State Duma international affairs committee, said that Russia, as a veto-wielding member of the Council, may block the plan if it is put to a vote hastily, without first agreeing it with the sides directly involved in the conflict.

    Speaking after a meeting with Frank Wisner, the U.S. State Secretary's special representative on Kosovo, the Russian lawmaker said that according to Washington, further delays in determining the province's status will lead to economic degradation and new ethnic clashes.

    But Kosachev said that the plan should not be considered by the UN Security Council until "all the sides involved in the conflict accept it."

    "So long as there is no acceptance, a hasty vote on the issue at the UN Security Council will provoke Russia and possibly China to use their veto power, which will have highly negative implications both for a settlement in Kosovo, and for the global geopolitical situation as a whole," Kosachev said.

    He also said that Ahtisaari's plan contradicts the guiding principles elaborated by the six-power Contact Group on Kosovo, which, along with Russia, includes the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

    "One indispensable condition for making progress on Kosovo would be to achieve standards in the protection of human rights and rights of ethic minorities, with the rights situation being far from perfect," he said.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who is a top official responsible for U.S. policy in the region, told a news conference earlier this week that Russia has been instrumental in securing strong safeguards for the Serb community in Kosovo, a region with a 90% ethnic Albanian population.

    Fried said Russia has been a productive and full-fledged member of the Contact Group right from the start, and that it has been continually pushing for safeguards of Kosovo Serbs' rights to be consolidated in the final plan for the province's status.

    He said the UN envoy's plan will ensure guaranteed seats in Kosovo's parliament for Serbs and other minorities as well as the protection of Serb churches, monasteries and other religious and cultural sites in the province, seen by the Serbs as the cradle of their culture and statehood.

    Fried said Ahtisaari's proposal is "a very strong plan, which will, among other things, give strong, enforceable guarantees to the Serbian community... strong guarantees to the Serbian monasteries and their lands, including protection zones to make sure that their lands are not encroached upon, and other guarantees which make a kind of mono-ethnic state or an extreme nationalistic state much more difficult, if not impossible."

    The U.S. official said Washington backs Ahtisaari, who "is looking for a fair solution" in Kosovo.

    "The status quo is not sustainable, and we cannot go back to the situation of 1999," he said.

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