Thursday, March 20, 2008

Serbia angered as neighbours recognise Kosovo

Thursday, 20 March, 2008

Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary have formerly recognised newly independent Kosovo in a joint move that has infuriated Serbia, which responded by recalling its ambassadors to Zagreb and Budapest.

In a joint statement, the three regional neighbours -- which all have borders with Serbia -- declared that their decision to recognise Kosovo as a sovereign nation was "based on thorough consideration".

It brought to 32 the number of countries worldwide that recognise Kosovo's independence -- unilaterally declared on February 17 by the parliament of the predominantly ethnic Albanian territory that had been a province of Serbia.

But it also dealt a blow to Serbia's firm opposition to Kosovo's independence, and in addition put strains on relations with Croatia, which like Serbia had been part of the former Yugoslavia.

Ambassadors recalled

Making good on its warning that relations would suffer, Belgrade swiftly recalled its ambassadors to Zagreb and Budapest for consultations.

In a statement in Belgrade, Serbian foreign ministry said the ambassadors -- Radivoj Cveticanin in Croatia and Predrag Cudic in Hungary -- should leave their host countries in the next 48 hours.

It added that a protest note had also been fired off to Monaco, the latest country to recognise Kosovo.

Unrest in Mitrovica

Wednesday's developments came just two days after the worst violence in Kosovo since independence, in which a UN police officer was killed and more than 150 people hurt in clashes in the divided Kosovo city of Mitrovica.

Many Serbs regard Kosovo as the cradle of their Orthodox faith, culture and identity, but how to respond to independence has triggered a political crisis in Belgrade, prompting elections to be called for May 11.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, speaking on Wednesday to Croatian television, welcomed the nod from Sofia, Zagred and Budapest, saying: "We are very satisfied that we have been finally recognised by ... our friends."

In a statement, the Croatian government said it "accepted" Kosovo's independence -- prompting deputy prime minister Slobodan Uzelac, who represents the country's Serb minority, to tender his resignation in protest.

Croatia went on to underline its "readiness to continue developing universal and intensive relations with Serbia".

"Ties between the countries in the region are of special importance and their lasting stability remains an irreplaceable factor of peace and security in Europe," it said.

Slovenia was the first former Yugoslav republic to recognise Kosovo, but Croatia's move is more sensitive, as it threatened to harm delicate post-war ties between the two neighbours.

Serbian President Boris Tadic had already stated that recognising Kosovo would have an "immediate impact on our bilateral ties".

In its statement, Hungary called on Belgrade to ensure the safety of 350,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Vojvodina, a Serbian province where the minority group has been targeted in the past by Serb nationalists.

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