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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 16:11 GMT
Kosovo: To recognise or not to recognise?
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

New flag of Kosovo
Kosovo's new flag: how widely will it be recognised?

The declaration of independence by Kosovo has provoked a worldwide debate about the merits of recognising it as a state.

Several governments with breakaway movements of their own are refusing to do so. They are anxious about setting a precedent and argue against recognition on the grounds that there was no agreement between Serbia and Kosovo and no clear UN Security Council mandate.

Others have endorsed the declaration as a unique and justified move for freedom and the inevitable outcome to Kosovo's history, in which Serb troops were forced out after Nato waged war in 1999 and the province was handed over to UN control.

The numbers matter. There needs to be a critical mass of countries recognising Kosovo to enable it to develop and prosper.

The United States, which made its own declaration of independence in 1776, and whose support for Kosovo has not been in doubt, led the way in recognising Kosovo. President Bush said: "The Kosovars are now independent."

The European Union

Several major European Union member states have also swung behind Kosovo, giving it powerful support. The EU as a whole has a key role in supervising the limited form of independence that a UN report recommended for Kosovo and which Kosovo has accepted.

Britain, France, Germany and Italy all see the Kosovo move as a one-off and as the last piece of the old Yugoslav jigsaw being slotted into its new place.

However, the EU, which has no common foreign policy except by agreement, is not unified. Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia are in the No camp. So is Spain, with its own separatist Basque movement.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said: "Spain is not going to recognise this unilateral declaration of independence... because it does not consider that this respects international law."

Russia

Beyond the EU, Russia is opposing independence, as it always has, again arguing that such a move should depend on there being an agreement with Serbia first.

"We are talking here of the disruption of all the basic fundamentals of international law in Europe, which is a result of years of suffering and wars and strife," said the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Russia's Sergei Lavrov calls it a "disruption of fundamentals"

"It would undermine the basics of security in Europe... It would inevitably result in a chain reaction in many parts of the world, including Europe and elsewhere."

One question is whether Russia will now more actively support the demands of two regions of Georgia for secession.

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoyty said: "Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have more political and legal grounds for their independence than Kosovo... we can clearly see a policy of double standards."

China

China indicated its opposition, perhaps with Taiwan in mind.

"China expresses its deep concern about Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence," the Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

Taiwan spoke in favour of Kosovo. "Our consistent position is that we want to develop relations with any free and democratic country," spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said.

To which the Chinese spokesman replied: "It is known to all that Taiwan, as a part of China, has no right and qualification at all to make the so-called recognition."

Israel, with negotiations for a neighbouring state of Palestine ongoing, was cautious, refusing to give an immediate position. Israel itself declared its independence in 1948.

Precedent?

Regions with aspirations of independence of their own are using the Kosovo declaration as a potential precedent for them.

"I salute the independence of Kosovo. No people can be forced to live under the rule of another," said Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriots.

Kosovo is "a lesson in how to resolve conflicts of identity and membership, peacefully and democratically," said Miren Askarate, spokeswoman for the Basque regional government in northern Spain.

The chairman of the breakaway Transdniester region of Moldova, Yevgeny Shevchuk, said: "We believe that a new era started and a new system of international relations was formed the moment part of a country, based on a series of historical developments, decided to live independently, and this country can gain recognition."

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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