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Kosovo recognition not universal

Mon., Feb. 18, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo – Kosovo’s hope for widespread international recognition of its newly declared independence is facing tense days of negotiations and posturing in the diplomatic corridors of Europe and the United Nations, where Russia intends to defend the rights of Serbia and its territorial integrity.

Official recognition from much of Europe for the tiny Balkan territory could come as early as today in Brussels, where European foreign ministers were to meet for talks to resolve internal divisions over recognizing Kosovo’s statehood. Also on the agenda: how to ensure stability in the aftermath of Kosovo’s decision Sunday to proclaim its independence from Serbia.

“We are involved in trying to secure the stability of a very volatile region at a critical period in time,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said. “We have to do it with care.”

Most Western countries and the United States for months have been signaling they would back an independent Kosovo, but the support in Europe was not unanimous.

While all 27 European Union members endorse an unprecedented aid plan to bolster Kosovo, some countries – including Greece, Romania, Spain, Cyprus and Slovakia – have said they will not recognize Kosovo as a separate country.

Serbia itself called Kosovo’s independence declaration illegal, and Russia denounced it, saying it threatened to touch off a new conflict in the Balkans.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency session Sunday at Russia and Serbia’s request. On Tuesday afternoon, a more formal and open debate is planned by the Security Council.

But whatever the diplomatic anxiety Kosovo faces, there was little evidence of it on the streets of Pristina after the parliament unanimously made its independence declaration early Sunday. Thousands of jubilant ethnic Albanians poured into the streets, firing guns in the air and waving red-and-black Albanian flags with their distinctive double-headed eagles.

Revelers braved subfreezing temperatures to ride on the roofs of cars, singing patriotic songs and chanting: “KLA! KLA!” the acronym for the now-disbanded rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. They waved American flags alongside the Albanian banner.

Many dressed in traditional costumes and played trumpets and drums, and an ethnic Albanian couple named their newborn daughter Pavarsie – Albanian for “independence.”

“This is the happiest day in my life,” said Mehdi Shehu, 68. “Now we’re free and we can celebrate without fear.”

By contrast, police in the Serbian capital Belgrade fired tear gas and rubber bullets in skirmishes with protesters who opposed the declaration. Groups of masked thugs ran through downtown Belgrade smashing windows and ransacking tobacco stands. At least 30 people were injured, about half of them police officers, hospital officials said.

Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. Others broke windows at McDonald’s restaurants and at the embassy of Slovenia – which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency. Later in the evening, police kept protesters from approaching the Albanian Embassy.

President Bush said the United States “will continue to work with our allies to the very best we can to make sure there’s no violence.”

“We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo,” Bush said while on a visit to Africa. “We also believe it’s in Serbia’s interest to be aligned with Europe, and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America.”

Underscoring fears of renewed unrest, an explosion lightly damaged a U.N. building housing a courthouse and a jail in Kosovo’s tense north, home to most of its roughly 100,000 minority Serbs. No one was injured.

In the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbs vowed never to let Kosovo go.

“The Albanians can celebrate all they want, but this stillborn baby of theirs will never be an independent country as long as we Serbs are here and alive,” said Djordje Jovanovic.


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