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    Rice Predicts Wider Recognition of Kosovo

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Friday she expects growing international recognition of Kosovo and that opponents of independence for the former Serbian province will come to terms with that reality. Rice met with Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to mark six months of Kosovar independence. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

    Kosovo independence was bitterly opposed by Serbia and its political ally Russia, which has blocked formal acceptance of the new state by the U.N. Security Council.

    But welcoming the two Kosovar leaders at the State Department, Secretary Rice said more than 40 countries have recognized Kosovo including a majority of Security Council member countries and over two-thirds of the members of the European Union and NATO.

    She pledged continuing support for Kosovo by the United States, which pledged more than $400 million in new aid over two years at a donors conference last month in Brussels.

    Rice said if Kosovo, which has a sizeable ethnic-Serb minority continues to deliver on commitments to protect minority rights and religious freedom, broader political acceptance will be forthcoming:

    "I believe that, if Kosovo continues to concentrate on building its multi-ethnic democracy, on protecting minority rights, on protecting religious freedom, on building institutions that can deliver for its people economically - which is why the donors conference, which was very successful, was so important that Kosovo will have a bright future. And those who did not wish to see an independent Kosovo will understand that there is an independent Kosovo and it is going to continue to be," he said.

    Rice said the United States has reached out to and wants good relations with Serbia, which has a new politically moderate government, and believes the future of both Serbia and Kosovo are in Europe.

    For his part, Prime Minister Thaci expressed gratitude for U.S. political and economic support and said his government is seeking amicable ties with everyone in the region. "Our country is a country of peace, stability and with a prospective of development of excellent relations with all the neighboring countries - Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and in the future, Serbia. We pledge that we'll achieve more successes in the future so that Kosovo will become part of the family - of the NATO family and E.U. and will have excellent relations with the United States," he said.

    The two Kosovar leaders are to meet President Bush on Monday.

    In advance of the White House meeting, the monitoring group Human Rights Watch said Mr. Bush should use the talks to press for improvement in what it said is Kosovo's poor human rights record.

    Human Rights Watch said Kosovo has a broken criminal justice system that frequently lets political and ethnic violence go unpunished.

    It also cited domestic violence, the trafficking of women, and discrimination against small ethnic minorities as key deficiencies, and said Kosovo has failed to adequately investigate the fate of hundreds of Serbs missing after warfare there a decade ago.

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