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War Of Words Rages Over Kosovo's Independence

Two days after Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence, a war of words has erupted among foreign governments reacting to Pristina's move.

Washington, London, Paris, and Ankara have all welcomed the declaration of independence, and the number of states that back Kosovo keeps growing. In response, Serbia has said it is recalling its ambassadors from those capitals that support Kosovo's independence.

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking in Tanzania during a state tour of Africa, endorsed Kosovo’s independence. "We have been working very closely with the Russians, as we have with the Europeans and other nations, on Kosovo's independence because we believe it is the right thing to do," Bush said. "There's the disagreement, but we believe, as do many other nations, that history will prove this to be a correct move to bring peace to the Balkans."

Washington was among the first wave of Western countries to recognize Kosovo in what now appears to have been a carefully precoordinated response.

On February 18, Britain, France, Germany, and Italy also recognized Pristina. Afghanistan, Albania, and Turkey have also joined in to support Kosovo's independence.

Bush alluded to the coordination between Western governments in his comments. "We worked out with our European allies a sequencing event to make sure that there was a concerted and constant voice supporting this move," he said.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has welcomed Pristina’s move. OIC head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said Kosovo’s independence will be “an asset to the Muslim world and further enhance joint Islamic action.”

The wave of support has been warmly welcomed by Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. "Thank you President Bush, thank you government and citizens of America," Thaci said during remarks in Pristina on February 18. "The Kosovar institutions, the people of Kosovo, will always be grateful, as a government and as a people, to the American nation."

A Precedent Of Independence

As some governments welcome the world's newest state, others -- mainly those with restless minority populations -- are voicing reservations.

Spain, which faces a separatist struggle in its Basque region, has said it will not recognize Kosovo. Neither will Cyprus, which wants the return of its separatist north.

Romania also disapproves of Pristina’s independence. Bucharest’s main reasons are its own large Hungarian community in Transylvania, a history of good neighborly ties with Serbia, and fears of seeing a precedent set for Moldova’s separatist Transdniester region.

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Sri Lanka, and China are also among countries that are dubious or critical of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. All have uneasy relations with minority movements of their own.

But it is Russia -- a strong ally of Serbia -- that has been the most vocal in rejecting Kosovo’s independence declaration. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has called it “a blatant breach of the norms and principles of international law.”

Moscow, which fought two wars with separatists in Chechnya and continues to wrestle with guerrillas there, says it does not approve of unilateral declarations of independence. But Russia also supports two separatist enclaves in Georgia, as well as Transdniester in Moldova.

Meanwhile, the angry reaction in Serbia shows no signs of diminishing since Pristina’s independence declaration on February 17.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, speaking at the UN Security Council on February 18, said that eight years after the war in Kosovo, "now democratic and peace-loving Serbia is being punished again by being deprived of part of its territory. Indeed, this formal logic and this formal justice are impossible to explain or comprehend."

Serbia's major political parties are set to voice their joint opposition in a mass rally scheduled for February 21 under the banner "Kosovo is Serbia."

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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