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EU Rejects Calls For Kosovo Independence - 2001-11-19

European Union foreign ministers have dismissed a call by the apparent winner of Kosovo's elections that the world should move toward recognizing the United Nations-administered Yugoslav province as an independent state. Kosovo elections are only one of a wide range of topics being discussed by the ministers at their meeting in Brussels.

The 15-nation E.U. said it is happy that Saturday's elections for a legislative assembly in Kosovo were peaceful and orderly. But it said the province's future has to be negotiated between its ethnic Albanian majority and Yugoslav authorities as spelled out in a U.N. resolution envisaging autonomy for the province within the Yugoslav Federation.

Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate Albanian leader, whose Democratic League of Kosovo claimed victory in Saturday's elections, immediately called for independence.

But Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the E.U.'s rotating presidency, told reporters that the Kosovars should stick to the U.N. resolution recognizing Yugoslav sovereignty over the territory. "We haven't changed our minds so far, which means that we are not in favor of independence in Kosovo," he said.

E.U. diplomats said later that the international community will make clear to Mr. Rugova that it will not allow Kosovo's new assembly to declare independence or take what they called "other provocative steps."

The E.U. foreign ministers are gathered in Brussels to discuss such topics as the fight against terrorism, the bloc's expansion to former communist countries and the group's plans for a rapid reaction force to be used in crisis management and peacekeeping.

But the failure of a top level E.U. mission to budge Israel into an early resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians hangs over the meeting, prompting some E.U. officials to ask whether the bloc will ever be able to play a major diplomatic role in the troubled region.

The E.U. delegation, led by Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, was given a hostile reception in Israel, partly because a Brussels court is considering trying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees at two Beirut camps by Lebanese Christian militiamen. Israeli officials have accused Belgium and the E.U. of being anti Israeli and pro Palestinian, a charge Mr. Verhofstadt denies. "I know that some people believe the European Union is closer to the Palestinian Authority, but I can tell you that is not the case. That is not true," he said.

Still, Mr. Verhofstadt was unable to move Mr. Sharon away from his insistence that there be seven days of total calm before he will renew talks with the Palestinians, a stand characterized by the usually diplomatic E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana as "stupidity."