Lavrov Warns Against Independence for Kosovo

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians would violate international law and trigger a chain reaction across the region.

His comments came the same day that at least 3,000 cheering Kosovars jammed a square in downtown Pristina for a pro-independence rally, as the breakaway province's leaders vowed to declare statehood early next year.

Any country recognizing such a declaration of independence would be "violating international law. We will not support the violation of international law," Lavrov said during a visit to Cyprus, in comments translated from Russian into Greek.

"I would like to stress that, in the event that Kosovo unilaterally declares independence and that independence is recognized, this will not be without consequences," Lavrov said after talks with Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos.

"This will trigger a chain reaction in the Balkans and in other areas of the world," he said. "Those formulating such plans must be thinking very carefully about these consequences."

University students and others did not seem very concerned about the warning as they marched through the provincial capital of Pristina and gathered near the parliament building to demand statehood.

The demonstrators waved U.S. and Albanian flags and carried posters that read, "Independence is the only option" and "Europe, show some unity."

Kosovo is widely expected to announce early in 2008 that it will formally break away from Serbia, but it has vowed not to do so without U.S. and European Union approval.

Government spokesman Skender Hyseni said a declaration was "not an issue of if, but when." Officials suggested it would come sometime in January or February.