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EU Policy Chief in Kosovo Amid Rising Tensions


European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana is the first leading international figure to visit Kosovo since it proclaimed independence from Serbia over the weekend. As Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest, Solana arrived amid both celebrations and violent demonstrations in the region.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana has arrived in Pristina, where ethnic Albanians have been celebrating the Kosovo parliament's declaration of independence.

Solana was meeting Kosovo's President Fatmir Sedjiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to discuss the nearly 2,000-strong EU police and justice mission that will monitor human rights in Kosovo.

He told a news conference the EU is ready to help Kosovo in its hard work ahead.

"I would like to say that the joy that was shown in the streets of Pristina and all over Kosovo which we share, we looked with great attention [at the] television, has to be converted into constructive energy, positive energy to move the development of the society that you have in front of you," said Solana.

Solana was secretary-general of NATO when the alliance helped push the Serbs out in 1999.

On Tuesday angry Serbs, who oppose the independence of Kosovo, set fire to two crossing points on the Kosovo-Serbia border, prompting the first intervention by NATO peacekeepers since Kosovo declared independence. In Kosovo's ethnically divided town of Mitrovica an explosion damaged cars and shattered windows at a U.N. compound, but there were no reports of injuries.

At least one police officer was reportedly wounded in the Serbian city of Nis, where protesters clashed with police after a march denouncing U.S. and EU support for Kosovo's statehood.

The frustration of Kosovo's Serbs over the declaration of independence and the international support for it, is shared by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

"Serbia finds this deeply regrettable," he said. "Serbia is not accepting that, and Serbia is going to fight tooth-and-nail diplomatically and politically in each and every international forum."

Serbia has already recalled its ambassador from Washington over the U.S. decision to recognize Kosovo's independence, and it threatened to remove envoys from other countries establishing diplomatic ties with the new Balkan state. As he left Washington, Serbian Ambassador Ivan Vujacic, said Kosovo's independence was "a travesty of international law" and could lead to more instability in the region.

"We feel that the negotiations should go on," said Vujacic. "We feel that the imposed solution concerning Kosovo is not the right solution and will not add to stability. And we hope that in the near future we will be able to regain the diplomatic ground on this issue and that this illegal act will not be recognized."

Russia and several European Union countries share Serbian concerns. Spain, for instance, fears Kosovo's declaration could affect the Basque region, where separatists seek a state of their own.

But other European Union nations, including France, Germany and Britain, have recognized Kosovo, and some 17 other EU states are expected to do the same.

As he presented his credentials to Kosovo's leadership, British envoy David Blunt said his mission in the capital Pristina has already been upgraded to the status of embassy.

"I can therefore confirm to you that the essential processes for the United Kingdom's recognition of Kosovo as an independent state under international supervision have now been completed," said Blunt.

European foreign ministers backing Kosovo's breakaway, say its unilateral declaration was justified by Belgrade's past oppression and Serb leaders' rejection of a negotiated final status for the region.

However Serbia's EU neighbors are divided over whether to recognize Kosovo's independence. Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz said in a statement that her government is willing to launch the process of recognition. Yet, she cautioned that Hungary also wants to retain intensive political, economic, cultural and human relations with Serbia, where some 300,000 ethnic Hungarians live.

Romania, which joined the EU last year, opposes Kosovo's independence, fearing it could destabilize Eastern Europe and the Balkans. That opinion is shared by Slovakia, which like Romania, has a sizable ethnic Hungarian minority. Slovakia has warned that developments in Kosovo could lead to more ethnic tensions in the region.