Harper defends Kosovo recognition as unique case

Canada's recognition of Kosovo's independence was born out of a unique situation that does not create any parallel with Quebec, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

Canada's recognition of Kosovo's independence was born out of a "very unique" situation that does not create any parallel with Quebec, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.

The prime minister's comments come a day after Canada followed the lead of about 30 other countries and formally recognized Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared its independence last month.

Many have speculated that Canada stayed silent on the issue in recent weeks because of its implications on a desire by Quebec separatists to secede from Canada.

But Harper, speaking to reporters in London, Ont., was quick to dismiss any separatist argument that Ottawa's decision set the stage for Ottawa to eventually recognize an independent Quebec if sovereigntists were to demonstrate a democratic will to separate.

"It's a totally different situation than the democratic debate in Canada and in Quebec," the prime minister said in French. "I think there is no similarity to our situation."

He said Kosovo was born out of a war that brought great suffering to its people that prompted an intervention by the international community, which essentially created a separate state.

Harper added Quebecers are clearly not interested in more referendums or debates about separation.

"They want to get on with building a strong Quebec within a strong Canada, and that's what our government is dedicated to doing, as is the government of Quebec," Harper said.

Over the weekend, members of the Parti Québècois voted to drop the party's vow to hold a referendum as soon as possible following an election win.

Canada 'will pay a price': former diplomat

But at least one former diplomat who represented Canada in the Balkans expressed his disappointment with the Harper government's decision.

James Bissett, Canada's former ambassador to Yugoslavia, said recognizing Kosovo's unilateral declaration deviates from Canada's traditional foreign policy of respecting its signature on the 1975 Helsinki Accords and other international laws surrounding territorial integrity.

"That is something I think we should all be concerned about," Bissett told CBC News on Wednesday.

Bissett, who also opposed Canada's participation in the NATO-led air war against Serbia in 1999, also disagreed with Harper's assessment that the decision doesn't set a precedent for Quebec separatists to cite.

"Of course, it does set a precedent," Bissett said from Ottawa. "The United States and indeed our foreign minister and perhaps our prime minister can say that it is unique and it doesn't set a precedent. But already, other countries who aspire for independence are beginning to say this is great news."

Bissett cited the number countries within NATO and the European Union who withheld their support to the declaration as reason for Canadian officials to give pause over the decision.

"I think we'll find ourselves a small group of Western democracies who recognize this failed state as independent and we'll a pay a price for that, I think, down the road," he said.

On Wednesday, two of Serbia's Balkan neighbours, Croatia and Hungary, recognized Kosovo's independence. A third, Bulgaria, said it would establish diplomatic ties on Thursday.

Canada's decision prompted the recall of Serbia's ambassador from Ottawa, who is returning to Belgrade for consultations.

Dusan Batakovic, Serbia's ambassador to Canada, told CBC News on Wednesday that he was handing over his country's formal protest of the decision later in the day and would leave the country within 48 hours.

Batakovic said Serbia was "very negatively surprised" by Canada's decision, which he called a "flagrant violation" of international law.

But he added he was only being recalled temporarily, as his country hopes Canada will modify its decision.

With files from the Canadian Press