Annan’s peace plan faltering as Russia warns Kosovo not to train Syria rebels

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj voiced strong support on Monday for Syria’s opposition, saying his government had already established diplomatic contacts with Syrians fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj

Hoxhaj was responding to comments by Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who warned the U.N. Security Council that Kosovo should not be allowed to become a training center for rebels.

Speaking after a regular council meeting on Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, Hoxhaj made clear that Pristina was offering political support to the Syrian opposition, which is locked in a 14-month-old battle with forces loyal to Assad.

“We were among the first governments in Europe who was supporting the opposition in Libya and in other Arab countries last year, because we were fighting for the same aspirations, for the same values,” he said, according to Reuters.

“We have the same approach to Syria and have some diplomatic contacts between my government and (the) Syrian opposition,” Hoxhaj said. “We are supporting very much their cause.”

Asked if Kosovo had established training centers for Syrian rebels, Hoxhaj said: “Not at all.”

Churkin, whose country is a strong supporter of Assad and has resisted Western calls to impose sanctions on his government, made clear that Moscow was afraid Kosovo was providing more than political advice.

“Turning Kosovo into an international training center for insurgents of various armed units could become a serious destabilizing factor, one going beyond the Balkan region,” he said. “We call on international presences operating in (Kosovo) to curb such slippage.”

The United Nations has a residual peacekeeping force in Kosovo that operates in the predominantly Serb north. The majority of Kosovars are Albanians, though its sizable Serb minority is concentrated in the north.

The Albanians do not recognize the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s authority in Kosovo. The government in Pristina does, however, cooperate with a European Union mission in Kosovo that oversees policing and justice.

Kosovo Serbs, backed by Belgrade, reject Kosovo’s 2008 secession and live as if they are still in part of Serbia.

Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed Serbia to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations, because Russia is opposed to its admission. More than 90 countries have recognized Kosovo, but Russia and Serbia are not among them.

Speaking to the Security Council earlier on Monday, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic reiterated Belgrade’s opposition to Kosovo’s February 2008 declaration of independence.

Also on Monday, Al Arabiya obtained a copy of the list submitted by the Syrian envoy to the U.N. Bashar al-Jafari to the Security Council on May 10. The list includes the names of “terrorists” arrested by the Syrian authorities. The list includes 19 Tunisians, 3 Lebanese, a Palestinian, a Jordanian, an Egyptian and a Libyan.

In Cairo, the Arab League announced the postponement of a planned meeting of the Syrian opposition, initially due to take place on Wednesday and Thursday in the Egyptian capital, AFP reported.

In a statement, the Arab organization said it had taken the decision, with no new date proposed, in response to a request from the opposition umbrella Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Council, the other main opposition faction.

Syrian troops on Monday pushed an assault on a central rebel bastion, with dozens reportedly killed across the country, as Saudi Arabia warned that Kofi Annan’s peace efforts appeared to be failing.

The EU, meanwhile, slapped fresh sanctions on Damascus, while Russia said it was “absolutely clear” al-Qaeda was behind last week’s twin bomb attacks in Damascus that killed 55 people and vowed to continue to arm the regime.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three troop carriers were destroyed in clashes that erupted at dawn on the outskirts of Rastan, a rebel-held city in restive Homs province of central Syria.

At least 23 soldiers were killed in the Rastan clashes, it said.

The Observatory also reported deadly violence elsewhere on Monday, putting the total daily toll of at least 37.

The bloodshed comes despite a month-old ceasefire brokered by U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan as part of a plan aimed at ending violence that has swept Syria since March 2011 when a popular revolt erupted against Assad’s regime.

Part of the plan includes the deployment in flashpoint areas of around 300 U.N. military observers. By Sunday, 189 observers were on the ground, the U.N. mission in Syria said.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister warned Monday that confidence in Annan’s peace mission was fading fast because of the relentless bloodshed.

More than 12,000 people, the majority of them civilians, have died since the Syrian uprising began, according to the Observatory, including more than 900 killed since the April 12 truce.

On the diplomatic front, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels slapped a 15th round of sanctions on Syria.

The new European Union sanctions, to take effect on Tuesday, mean 128 people and 43 firms or utilities are now targeted by an assets freeze and travel ban for backing the regime’s 14-month campaign of relentless repression.

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