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US formally recognizes Kosovo

The United States formally recognized Kosovo on Monday and said independence from Serbia for the majority Albanian province was the only “viable option” to keep the region stable. Serbia urges split UN council to act on Kosovo.

“The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. SerbiaWashington in protest. Washington’s action, which was expected, followed recognition of Kosovo by Europe’s largest states -- France, Britain, Italy and Germany, as well as some Muslim states like Afghanistan. More countries are expected to follow suit, but Spain said it would not recognize Kosovo, and Russia strongly opposes the region’s independence. Washington, along with most European Union countries, says Serbia recalled its ambassador from relinquished the moral right to rule the people of Kosovo because of the brutality it used against them under the late President Slobodan Milosevic. “In light of the conflicts of the 1990s, independence is the only viable option to promote stability in the region,” Rice said.

Kosovo has been under United Nations supervision since 1999, when NATO bombing forced a withdrawal of Serb forces that had been attacking Albanians there. There are some 17,000 NATO-led troops in Kosovo. But Rice invited Belgrade to work together with the United States on shared goals, including the protection of the Serbian community in Kosovo. The region is steeped in Serb myth but home to 2 million Albanians, a 90% majority. Rice also said the situation in Kosovo “cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today”.

Warning to Russia
This was seen as a warning to Russia, whose officials have linked Kosovo’s status to separatist regions in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has said recognition of Kosovo creates a legal precedent that would be followed by others. Earlier, US President George W. Bush, in his first comments on Kosovo’s declaration, noted that the United States had advocated independence for Kosovo. “The Kosovars are now independent. It’s something I’ve advocated along with my government,” Bush said in an interview aired on NBC television from Arusha, Tanzania. He was expected to speak again on the subject from Africa at 0415 GMT Tuesday.

Washington will support Kosovo economically as well as politically, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. There would be a donors conference in Europe soon, he said, and Washington would give $335 million in aid to Kosovo this year. “We are encouraging other countries to do as much,” Burns said in a conference call with reporters. “We would like to see the involvement of the World Bank ... We would like to see debt relief. We would like to see as much regional trade and investment as is possible in that region.” Washington believes Kosovo will be a stable state, Burns said, adding that it had been a “relatively quiet 24 hours” since the declaration, and he hoped calm would be sustained. Burns said he did not expect a downgrading of US ties with Serbia over the issue, or a crisis with Russia. He said Rice had spoken with Serbian President Boris Tadic on Sunday, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

On Capitol Hill, members of both parties expressed support for Kosovo’s independence and US recognition and expressed concern about Serbia. “The US and our allies must support the integration of Kosovo into international and Euro-Atlantic institutions. We must also be prepared to work closely with Serbia and assist with their goals of joining the European Union and engaging European institutions,” said Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I also recognize that today is painful for many in Serbia,” said Rep. Howard Berman, the acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a California Democrat. “My strong wish is that the Serbian people will remain focused on achieving a prosperous future in the Euro-Atlantic community.”

 

If the UN Security Council does nothing to stop Kosovo from seceding, it will send a message to the world that no country’s sovereignty and borders are safe, Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Monday. But the 15-nation council remained deeply divided over Kosovo and took no action at an emergency meeting held after the United States and major European Union powers recognized the former Serbian province as an independent state. Tadic repeated that Serbia saw the majority ethnic Albanian territory’s secession as a violation of international law and urged the council to avoid setting a dangerous precedent. “If you cast a blind eye to this illegal act, who guarantees to you that parts of your countries will not declare independence in the same illegal way?” he told the council. “Who can guarantee that a blind eye will not be cast to the violation of the charter of the United Nations, which guarantees the sovereignty and integrity of each state, when your country’s turn comes up?” Tadic received strong support from the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, who called Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Sunday “a blatant breach of the norms and principles of international law.”

Serbia’s argument is that the secession is illegal because it’s neither endorsed by Belgrade, which considers Kosovo its sovereign territory, nor by the UN Security Council, which has had ultimate authority over Kosovo since 1999.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya also expressed concern about Kosovo’s move, saying it posed a “serious challenge to the fundamental principles of international law.” Envoys from Vietnam and South Africa also expressed reservations about it. Serbia and its ally Russia, a veto-wielding Security Council member, have been urging the council to intervene against Kosovo’s independence. But Moscow and Belgrade have failed to move the council due to Western support for Kosovo. Tadic reiterated that Serbia was committed to peace and would not use force to prevent Kosovo from going its own way. But he said Belgrade would never recognize independent Kosovo.

Legacy of Milosevic
Russia and Serbia have recently called three emergency council sessions to bridge the differences Moscow has with Western states that say secession is the only viable option. Monday’s session made it clear the impasse remained. Italian envoy Aldo Mantovani told Serbia and the council: “Kosovo’s independence is a fact. It’s time to move ahead.” This view was supported by council members United States, Britain, Croatia, Belgium and France. Even though more than two years of talks between Pristina and Belgrade on the future status of Kosovo yielded no agreement, both Russia and Serbia continue to demand a new round of negotiations.

 

The United States and most EU member states trace the need for independence back to late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal suppression of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians, which led to a 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia to compel it to stop killing and expelling Albanians. “(Milosevic) had tried in 1999 to expel the majority population from Kosovo,” British Ambassador John Sawers said. “People being herded onto trains provoked images from the 1940s. The events of 1999 shaped the events we see now.” Sawers said today’s Belgrade was not responsible for Milosevic’s actions but must accept that his legacy meant that Kosovo would never be ruled from Belgrade again. Tadic dismissed this view. He also warned EU member states that recognized Kosovo that they had done nothing to bring Serbia closer to the bloc. “By recognizing the independence of Kosovo you are not helping the European future of Serbia,” Tadic said at the end of the meeting. “It’s not a friendly act to my country.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, would remain there. In response to journalists’ questions later, he declined to say whether he thought Kosovo’s independence declaration was legal or not.

Serbia is recalling its ambassadors for consultations from the countries recognizing the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Monday. “Whoever decides to trample on international laws and brutalize and trample on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia cannot continue having normal relations with our friendly, peaceful and democratic nation,” Jeremic said after attending the UN Security Council emergency session on Kosovo. Regretting that the Security Council could not come to a conclusion on the Kosovo issue, the foreign minister said, “Serbia is going to fight, tooth and nail, diplomatically and politically in each and every international forum” for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Serbia found it “deeply regrettable” that some founding members of the United Nations, some powerful nations, were deciding to trample on international law and order on this very day, he said. In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told a special parliamentary session Monday that the government has instructed its ambassador to the United States Ivan Vujacic to return home immediately. The move was in protest against the US decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence, and was the first in what is set to be a series of recalls of diplomats from countries who follow America’s suit, according to the prime minister. In another development Monday, the Serbian Parliament voted 225 out of 234 at a special session in favor of the government resolution to annul the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. (Reuters, Xinhuanet)