March 19, 2008 / 12:14 AM / 10 years ago

Canada recognizes Kosovo

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada formally recognized the breakaway republic of Kosovo on Tuesday, a decision Serbia said was a major mistake that could encourage separatists in the province of Quebec.

<p>Belgium NATO peacekeepers stand guard in front of the police station in north Mitrovica March 18, 2008. Canada will formally recognize the breakaway ethnic republic of Kosovo later on Tuesday, the Serb embassy in Ottawa said. REUTERS/Nebojsa Markovic</p>

Kosovo, which has a predominantly ethnic Albanian population, declared unilateral independence from Serbia last month. The United States, France, Germany and Britain have already recognized Kosovo while Russia opposes the idea.

Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said the recent history of violence and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo made it “a unique case” and implicitly warned separatists in the French-speaking province of Quebec not to draw comparisons.

“The unique circumstances which have led to Kosovo’s independence mean it does not constitute any kind of precedent,” Bernier said in a statement.

Dusan Batakovic, the Serbian ambassador to Ottawa, told Reuters he would “hand over a strong protest” on Wednesday before returning to Belgrade for consultations.

“I am very disappointed by this unwise decision that violates both international law and the territorial sovereignty of Serbia,” he said in a telephone interview, saying the move could have implications for Canadian unity.

Provincial Quebec governments formed by the separatist Parti Quebecois held referendums on breaking away from Canada in 1980 and 1995 but both failed, the last one very narrowly.

The Parti Quebecois, now in opposition in the Quebec legislature, said last month that if Ottawa recognized a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo it would have to treat a similar move by Quebec the same way.

After the 1995 referendum, Ottawa pushed through a law to make Quebec secession harder. The law means Canada would never recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by Quebec’s legislature -- the same act taken by Kosovo’s parliament.

Asked about what impact the decision to recognize Kosovo could have on Quebec separatists, Batakovic replied: “Once you make a precedent ... it usually creates a domino effect. Others will use a similar precedent.”

Batakovic said he would stay in Belgrade until Canada took steps to enable the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties.

“It is very difficult to predict how things will unravel. One of the biggest mistakes has already been made,” he said, adding that Canada was rewarding what he called acts of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo’s minority Serb population.

Bernier said Ottawa attached great importance to Kosovo’s commitments to ensure the protection of the rights of Serbs and other minorities.

“The development of Kosovo into a democratic, multiethnic state that fully respects human rights is essential for peace, political stability and economic progress in the Balkans,” he said.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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