Russia warns of 'chain reaction separatism's

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov issued a strong warning Friday that granting independence to Kosovo could spark a "chain reaction" among other breakaway regions in Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Ivanov spoke before holding planned talks with his NATO counterparts, who have backed a plan drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari proposing internationally supervised statehood for the separatist Serbian province.

Russia has long expressed reservations about Kosovo's separatist aspirations, and Ivanov's comments underscored differences between Russia and the West. The issue of Kosovo's status will be discussed next month at the U.N. Security Council.

"If we imagine a situation where Kosovo achieves independence, then other people, people living in regions that are not recognized, will ask us: "are we not as good as them?" Ivanov told reporters. "This concerns obviously the post-Soviet space, but alsoregions in Europe," he said. "This can create a chain reaction ... we must be careful not to open Pandora's box."

Talks postponed:Meanwhile, a U.N. mediator said Friday official talks on the U.N. plan for Kosovo have been postponed for one week, to allow for a parliament to be formed in Belgrade.

Speaking to reporters in Pristina, Albert Rohan said the chief U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari agreed to reschedule the talks until Feb. 21 after receiving a formal request from the Serbian president, Boris Tadic. The negotiations were initially planned for Feb. 13.

In another development, thousands of Serbs rallied in a tense city in the north of Kosovo Friday to protest a U.N. plan granting monitored statehood for the troubled province.

U.N. and NATO peacekeepers stepped up security ahead of the gathering, drawing additional forces to a key bridge separating the Serb and ethnic Albanian parts of the divided town.

"No To Independent Kosovo," "Kosovo is Soul of Serbia," and "No to Anti-Serb Plan" read some of the slogans at the protest which drew more than 4,000 Serbs from northern Kosovo.

[Source: Turkish Daily News, Seville, 10Feb07]

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