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US Seeks Clarfication on Serbian Official's 'Inflammatory' Kosovo Comments

06 September 2007

The State Department said Thursday it is seeking clarification from Belgrade after a Serbian official said that country might use force to prevent independence for Kosovo. Talks on Kosovo resume later this month in New York, with a December deadline set by the United Nations looming. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is criticizing as "inflammatory and unfortunate" a remark by Serbia's top official for Kosovo that Belgrade might respond militarily to an independence move by the U.N.-administered Serbian province.

But is also says it believes more-conciliatory remarks by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic represent that country's actual policy.

The comments here followed remarks by Dusan Prorokovic, Serbia's state secretary for Kosovo, who told the International Herald Tribune Wednesday that Serbia is ready to use force to prevent Western countries from recognizing Kosovo as an independent state.

The official, a senior member of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Serbian Democratic Party, said other possible steps being considered by Belgrade include sealing Kosovo's borders and imposing a trade embargo.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States is seeking clarification of the Prorokovic remarks from the Belgrade government:

"Certainly those are unfortunate remarks and they're not at all helpful," said Casey. "More importantly though, we believe those statements don't represent the views of the government of Serbia, and in fact we understand that the foreign minister of Serbia told EU officials in Brussels that the use of force was not an option for Serbia in dealing with the issue of Kosovo's status."

Foreign Minister Jeremic, considered a pro-Western reformer, was quoted as saying in Brussels that Serbia would not threaten military or other action that would further destabilize the situation.

But he also warned that diplomatic recognition for a breakaway Kosovo would spark a nationalist backlash in Serbia and trigger territorial claims in the Balkans and elsewhere.

The United States, along with Russia and the European Union, are overseeing the talks between Serbian and Kosovar leaders, which are to reconvene September 18 in New York.

The United Nations has set a December 10 deadline for completing the long-running negotiations on Kosovo's final status.

If an agreement is not forthcoming, the United States and European Union allies in the international "contact group" on Kosovo say they will press forward with supervised independence as proposed by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisarri.

Russia, another contact group member, supports its long-time ally Serbia, which strongly opposes independence but says it is willing to give Kosovo a large measure of autonomy.

The majority ethnic-Albanian province has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when a NATO air campaign drove out Serb forces engaged in a brutal crackdown on Albanian separatists.

About 17,000 NATO troops and police remain in Kosovo, and regional analysts doubt Serbia would actually provoke a conflict with alliance forces.

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