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Serbia's Neighbors Recognize Kosovo

Serbia's neighbors Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia have recognized Kosovo's independence. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest that their joint statement has led to tensions with Belgrade and concerns among ethnic minorities living in Serbia.

In a joint statement issued simultaneously in their three capitals, the governments of Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia made clear they saw no other option than to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

They said their decision followed the international community's failure to find a negotiated solution between Belgrade and Pristina on the status of Kosovo.

The three states stressed they want to maintain good relations with Serbia and help it to eventually join the European Union. The EU has already offered Serbia a cooperation agreement, which has yet to be signed.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic warned Wednesday that countries recognizing what he called " the illegally declared state of Kosovo" cannot count on good relations with Serbia.

That worries officials of Serbia's Hungarian minority of some 300,000 people. They fear Hungary's recognition of Kosovo will provoke attacks against ethnic Hungarians, who mainly live in the Serbian province of Vojvodina.

Speaking in Budapest Wednesday, Hungarian State Secretary of Foreign Affairs Maria Fekszi Horvath urged Belgrade to protect the Hungarian community.

"The Serbian government has an interest in sparing ethnic Hungarians of Vojvodina from atrocities in the wake of Kosovo's recognition," she said. "Both Hungary and Serbia should pay special attention to minorities living on their territory."

Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia have also urged the authorities of predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo to respect the rights of minorities, including Serbs.

Tensions remain high in the province after violent clashes this week between Serbs opposing Kosovo's independence and NATO and U.N. security forces. A Ukrainian police officer was killed in the violence and about 150 people were injured.

Analysts have warned that Kosovo may split in two between Albanian and Serb areas, something 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are trying to avoid.