Continued from page 1

Kosovo is the seventh state to emerge from the rubble of the former Yugoslavia. Its formal secession from Serbia ended nearly nine years of U.N. receivership, which followed NATO’s 1999 intervention to protect the territory’s mostly ethnic-Albanian population from the forces of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The ethnic bloodshed that plagued the Balkans throughout the ‘90s has been minimal in recent years, but NATO’s 10,000-strong Kosovo Force (KFOR) increased its troop strength Thursday in the Serb-controlled part of Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city in northern Kosovo. Earlier this month, Mitrovica was the site of a deadly bomb blast at a Serb political rally and the shooting of a Serb member of Kosovo’s parliament.

“KFOR will continue to implement its mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment in an impartial manner throughout Kosovo, for the benefit of all communities, majority and minority alike,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

EU foreign-affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Thursday that Brussels was “ready to facilitate a process of dialogue between Pristina [Kosovo] and Belgrade,” adding that the future of both nations “lies in the European Union.”

Mr. Thaci said in his interview that “the next step” for Kosovo would be to attain membership in NATO, the EU and the U.N.

He appealed to the leaders of Serbia, who have been seeking EU membership, to consider the ramifications of failing to recognize Kosovo.

“We are ready to recognize Serbia, and I hope in the near future Serbia will change its position and recognize the independence of Kosovo, too,” he said, “because the only way for Serbia to be part of the EU is to recognize the independence of Kosovo.”

But Serbian officials said that they would accept an outcome reached only through negotiations with Pristina.

“Everything is on the table as far as we’re concerned,” Serbia’s ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Petrovic, told The Washington Times. “We don’t have any preconditions to sit down and talk about the final solution.”

Mr. Thaci, however, has said that Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity are not negotiable. Rejecting suggestions for an ethnic realignment of Kosovo’s borders, he insisted that minorities throughout Kosovo have nothing to fear. “I want to assure all communities living in Kosovo - and in particular, the Serb citizens - that Kosovo is their home, too.”