Kosovo said Friday it has applied for membership in the United Nations' scientific and cultural organization, a move immediately opposed by Serbia, which argues Kosovo is not qualified because it isn't a state.
Kosovo's Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci countered at a UN Security Council meeting that Kosovo is eligible to become a member of the UN Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) before it becomes a UN member state — if UNESCO's executive board recommends it and two-thirds of its members approve.
Kosovo came under UN and NATO administration after a 1999 NATO-led air war halted a crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists, but its final status was left in question. Its predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by 111 countries.
Serbia rejects its secession, and its close ally, Russia, has blocked Kosovo from becoming a UN member.
Thaci said UNESCO will decide on its application in November.
Kosovo is already a member of two UN agencies, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, he said, adding that many countries, including Austria and Vietnam, became UNESCO members long before they joined the UN.
Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic insisted that Kosovo is still a UN-administered territory and said its membership in UNESCO would violate UN rules.
Dacic also warned that the desecration of Serbian monasteries in Kosovo is continuing, calling this one way "of intimidating the remaining Orthodox population in the province."
Dacic told the council: "Since June 1999, 236 churches, monasteries and other sites owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as cultural-historical monuments, have been targets of attacks."
Thaci responded that UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kosovo "are safe, or safer than they have been in the last 1,000 years," adding that "our police force protects 95 per cent of the sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church."