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Source: Reuters

Aug 3 (Reuters) - Britain warned Serbia on Tuesday that any attempt to undermine Kosovo's independence would spark a confrontation with those nations that recognize Pristina, remarks that prompted a sharp rebuke from Russia.

In a major blow to Serbia's attempts to hang on to the breakaway territory, the International Court of Justice in The Hague said last month in a nonbinding ruling that Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.

British Deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham said that in light of the ICJ opinion it was time to put an end to the debates over Kosovo's independence, which Serbia and its powerful ally Russia say they will never accept.

"The legal process before the ICJ has now come to an end and this must also mean an end to debate about Kosovo's status," Parham told a U.N. Security Council debate on Kosovo.

He urged political dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, and then issued a stern warning to Belgrade.

"There can be no return to negotiations on either Kosovo's status or its existing borders," Parham said. "Any attempt to go down this path would lock Serbia into confrontation with those that have recognized Kosovo."

"Any attempt to encourage the partition of Kosovo, or status talks, would be against the long-term interests of the citizens of both Kosovo and Serbia," he said. "The United Kingdom will strongly resist any such attempts."


Parham's remarks provoked an angry reaction from Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

"We heard something which came close to a threat of confrontation by countries recognizing Kosovo," he said.

"We do not know if one delegation was entrusted with speaking on behalf of all these countries. We hope that the majority of them will stick to restrained approaches."

The United States also voiced full support for Kosovo. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said: "Its independence is irreversible, it's borders inviolable."

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic disputed Parham's interpretation of the ICJ ruling, saying that it in no way gave legal justification to the independence of Kosovo. He said that the U.N. mission there, known as UNMIK, was still in charge.

Kosovo's Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni said he wanted the 15-nation Security Council to replace resolution 1244, which established U.N. control over Kosovo after a NATO bombing campaign drove Serbian forces out of the region, with a new resolution ending UNMIK and recognizing its independence.

Council diplomats say that there is no hope of the council passing such a resolution at the moment, since Moscow opposes the idea. Russia, like the United States, Britain, France and China, is a permanent veto-wielding council member.

Pristina predicts a wave of new recognitions thanks to the ICJ ruling. Some 69 nations now recognize it.

Serbia has submitted a draft resolution to the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly that opposes Kosovo's independence.  Parham said that draft was "unacceptable."

Serbia could risk progress towards its goal of joining the European Union if it maintains its defiance on Kosovo, blocking Pristina's membership in international bodies and barring goods and people with Kosovo documents from entering its territory.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed it to halt the killing of ethnic Albanians in a two-year war.

After nine years as an international protectorate, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, backed by the United States and most EU member states, declared independence in February 2008.

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