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EU powers recognise Kosovo independence

18/02/2008 - 19:07

By Douglas Hamilton

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Europe's biggest states andthe United States said on Monday they were recognising Kosovo,a day after it seceded from Serbia.

Paris was first to announce its move after a European Unionforeign ministers' meeting in Brussels, and Britain, Germanyand Italy followed immediately.

Then Washington said the words Kosovo's 2 million Albanianshave long dreamed of.

"The United States has today formally recognised Kosovo asa sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the peopleof Kosovo on this historic occasion," Secretary of StateCondoleezza Rice said in a statement.

It was a great relief for Pristina which had nervouslyawaited expected Western blessing of its secession, but a blackday for Serbia, cementing the loss of what it sees as itsspiritual homeland.

"The recognition of Kosovo is as important as thedeclaration of independence," Kosovo's deputy prime ministerHajredin Kuci told Reuters.

"We are grateful ... This is a crucial issue for new stateof Kosovo and its functioning."

Finland also said it would be among those recognising too-- despite the anger of Serbia and its main backer, Russia.Turkey also recognised the territory it once ruled in Ottomantimes.

Kosovo Albanians poured onto the streets of the capitalPristina waving French, German, British, Italian and U.S.flags, to thank the West.

The EU said each of its 27 member states could decide foritself on recognition and Spain -- facing its own separatiststruggles -- led a minority that will say "no", complainingthat the move had "no international legal basis".

"Around 17 states have decided to react quickly so as toavoid creating a vacuum with indecisive behaviour," said GermanForeign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"Italy recognises Kosovo as an independent state underinternational supervision," Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alemasaid, a reminder that Kosovo will remain under outside control,as it has been for the last nine years since NATO drove outSerb forces to protect ethnic Albanians.

BUSH

U.S. President George W. Bush had earlier appeared to jumpthe gun ahead of his own State Department, saying the people ofKosovo "are now independent".

The remark was flashed in Kosovo as meaning U.S.recognition but a White House spokeswoman said it did notamount to recognition -- but that came just a few hours later.

This was in line with the original script which called forthe EU to go first in announcing its policy on what the Westinsists is a "European issue" that Russia should not interferein.

Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania haveindicated they too are not keen to recognise Kosovo, whichconfidently expects recognition from up to 100 states.

Serbia has vowed peaceful retaliatory steps and could makelife even more difficult for the territory than it already is,with its 50 percent unemployment and a weak economy.

There was no shortage of protest by Serbs against theunilateral secession of the southern province, run by theUnited Nations and NATO for the past nine years.

Serbs protested against Kosovo's secession for a second dayin Belgrade, in their Kosovo stronghold of Mitrovica, and inisolated Serb enclaves in central Kosovo. Several thousandturned out for the rallies, which remained mainly peaceful.

Serbs in the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka alsodemonstrated, shouting "Kill the Albanians! and stoning policeguarding the U.S. consulate.

The EU appealed for calm after Serb nationalist protestersstoned Western embassies in Belgrade on Sunday night.

NATO, whose troops keep the peace in Kosovo, saidconditions on the ground there were quiet and there was nocurrent need to reinforce its 17,000-plus peacekeeping force.

"It's the end of the Balkan troubles. I hope it's over. Andnow we need reconciliation, even now I know that will take along time," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

(Additional reporting by Ellie Tzortzi, Daria Sito-Sucic,Ivana Sekularac; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; edited by RichardMeares)


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