(AFP) – Mar 18, 2008
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA (AFP) — World powers called for calm Tuesday amid lingering tension in the flashpoint northern town Kosovska Mitrovica, a day after Serbs clashed with UN police in the worst violence since Kosovo's independence declaration.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the appeal for all parties involved to refrain from further violence, as Kosovo authorities announced a UN police officer had died of wounds received during Monday's unrest.
"I think we do agree that all sides should refrain from violence, and that all sides should refrain from any provocation. And we're sending a message to all sides appropriately," Rice said.
But bitter differences remain between Washington, the main backer of Kosovo's independence, and Moscow, which has stood by Serbia in fiercely opposing the loss of the territory.
Speaking at a joint Moscow press conference with Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Kosovo Serbs' rights were being ignored and they felt like "strangers" in their own country.
Russia insists a resolution of Kosovo's status can only come with the consent of both the Serbian and Kosovo governments.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik called on Serbia and Kosovo Serb leaders to promote calm in the region.
"The Serbian government has repeatedly vowed to refrain from violence as a political tool. This must also be carried out consistently," Plassnik said in a statement.
"Nobody must be allowed to escape responsibility, either by looking away or just allowing it to happen," she added.
In Monday's violence, a Ukrainian police lieutenant was killed and more than 150 people -- among them 64 international security officials -- were injured in Mitrovica.
The rioting erupted after the UN police tried to dislodge a group of Serb protesters who had been holed up for three days inside two UN-run courts, which they wanted to be placed back under Serbian control.
After the police detained around 50 of the Serbs, hundreds of residents from the Serb-populated northern part of the town attacked the security force's convoy and freed some of the prisoners.
The police later withdrew from northern Mitrovica, but NATO peacekeepers (KFOR) stayed in the tense flashpoint town.
In a tiny Albanian-populated part of northern Mitrovica, French KFOR troops responded with a stun bomb Tuesday to a group of Serbs stoning their passing convoy, witnesses said.
Kosovo's Albanian-majority parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17, a move rejected by Belgrade and minority Kosovo Serbs.
Kosovo is overwhelmingly Albanian but Serbs consider it a cradle of their civilisation. It has been under UN administration since 1999 when NATO intervened to stop Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Japan and Canada were the latest countries to recognise Kosovo Tuesday, joining the US and most of the European Union including Britain, France, Germany and the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia.
"We hope Kosovo will contribute to regional stability in the long term," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said, adding, "We hope the friendly ties with Serbia will continue."
Canada "joined the international community and recognized Kosovo as a new state," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier told public broadcaster CBC.
In a response, Serbia recalled its ambassadors in Canada and Japan, as it has done with the 27 other countries that recognised Kosovo.
Besides Russia, Serbia enjoys support from a few EU states including Cyprus and Spain, as well as China, which is in the midst of a crackdown against protests in Tibet.
But Serbia's neighbours Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary are expected to recognise Kosovo on Wednesday, various sources said.
The International Crisis Group, a New York-based think-tank, warned that the failure by more countries to recognise Kosovo could created more dangers for the future.
"The global community's so-far tepid embrace of the new republic, Belgrade's efforts to expand its hold over Serb areas so as to advance a partition strategy and the failure of international bodies and Pristina to coordinate a counter-strategy suggest longer-term dangers remain very real," said the ICG.
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