Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kosovo: US weapons plan and neighbours' recognition angers Belgrade

Belgrade, 20 March (AKI) - Serbia reacted angrily on Thursday to the United States' announcement it would send weapons to Kosovo and to the recognition of independence by its neighbours Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

Prime minister Vojislav Kostunica said Washington’s decision to supply weapons to the province which declared independence from Serbia last month was “another deeply wrong step by the US after illegal recognition of unilateral independence”.

The US and leading European countries, which have spearheaded Kosovo's independence drive, were among the first to recognise the new state. Serbia’s neighbours Croatia and Hungary recognised Kosovo on Wednesday and Bulgaria was expected to do the same on Thursday.

“There have already been too many weapons in Kosovo and instead of illegally arming ethnic Albanians, the US should return respect for international law and the United Nations Charter,” Kostunica told Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti.

"Kosovo doesn’t need new weapons, but new negotiations on its status," he added.

Serbia and its ally Russia oppose Kosovo's independence and insist on continuing negotiations. But western powers have recognised Kosovo on a bilateral basis after Russia blocked the move in the UN Security Council.

US president George W Bush announced on Wednesday that Kosovo has qualified for the American military aid after acquiring independence.

The US was the first of around 40 countries which have now recognised Kosovo. US flags abounded during the independence celebrations there (photo).

Under the independence plan forged by former UN negotiator Martti Ahtisaari, Kosovo will have a lightly armed 2,500-person security force.

The security force will be supervised and trained by 17,000 NATO troops stationed in the province.

“The decision of the American president causes the greatest concern and only deepens the problems caused by the breach of the resolution 1244,” Kostunica said.

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 placed Kosovo under UN control in 1999, but it is still officially treated as being a part of Serbia.

Serbia has withdrawn its ambassadors to Croatia and Hungary for consultations in protest at their recognition of Kosovo, as it has done with all other countries.

Croatia had delayed recognition of independence because of its small Serb minority and for the fear that its companies and goods would be boycotted in Serbia. But the US put it and other neighbouring countries under great pressure to recognise Kosovo, according to Serb media.

Croatia, Albania and Macedonia are expected to be invited to join NATO at the Bucharest summit. But Macedonia’s entry is conditional on it resolving the country’s 15-year-long dispute with neighboring Greece over its name.

Belgrade daily Politika said Bulgaria and Macedonia were also under strong pressure from Washington, because they would be the first Orthodox Christian countries, like Serbia, to recognise Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanians are mostly Muslim.

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