- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The United States yesterday coupled its formal recognition of newly independent Kosovo with an appeal for the European Union and the World Bank to help turn the impoverished territory into a prosperous Muslim-majority state.

With unemployment of nearly 50 percent, an average monthly salary of about $220 and growing corruption, Europe’s youngest country has raised security concerns throughout the continent.

Still, it was clear after an all-night party celebrating Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Sunday that most of the population — more than 90 percent Muslim — is looking west to America rather than east to Mecca.

After a night of fireworks, heavy drinking and dancing in the streets to Tupac Shakur’s rap hit “California Love,” residents of the Kosovar capital, Pristina, resumed their celebration yesterday, waving U.S. and Kosovar flags at the news that their new nation had been formally recognized by the United States.

Four EU members — Britain, France, Germany and Italy — quickly followed suit. Washington promised to establish full diplomatic relations soon.

U.S. and European diplomats said they expect most of the 27 EU countries to add their recognition of Kosovo, which has been under U.N. protection since Western forces ended a Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1999.

Still, recognition should not be a precondition for all the group’s members to send aid, U.S. officials said. “The EU will bear the greatest share of responsibility” for economic assistance to Kosovo, said R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

He noted that the United States gave $77 million in aid to Kosovo last year and will offer $335 million this year.

“We are encouraging other countries to do as much,” Mr. Burns said in a conference call with reporters. “We would like to see the involvement of the World Bank. … We would like to see debt relief. We would like to see as much regional trade and investment as is possible.”

European governments promised to hold a donors conference in the coming months and hoped to raise about $1.5 billion to shore up Kosovo’s economy over the next two years, said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.

The challenges facing Kosovo “are not only economic, but [also] in dealing with crime, of which human trafficking is only one particularly abhorrent element,” said Daniel Korski of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

He also cited trafficking of illicit goods, economic crime, fraud, tax crime and money laundering, adding, “These all impact Europeans.”

Mr. Burns, arguing that independence was the only “just” resolution of Kosovo’s status, said it was crucial that the new country succeed.

“It’s very positive that a Muslim-majority state has been created,” he said.

President Bush sent a letter to Kosovo’s leader, Fatmir Sejdiu, congratulating the citizens of Kosovo for having taken “this important step in your democratic and national development.”

Washington’s long-anticipated decision was criticized by former national security officials in Republican administrations, including former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and John R. Bolton, ambassador to the United Nations until last year.

Serbia, which still considers Kosovo the heart of its cultural heritage, as well as Russia and China strongly objected to the unilateral declaration of independence.

India and Brazil said they were studying the legality of the action, while Sri Lanka said it was a violation of the U.N. Charter.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday sought to “reaffirm our friendship with Serbia, an ally during two world wars.” She said Kosovo “cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.”

EU members Spain, Slovakia and Cyprus joined Russia and China in warning that Kosovo’s action is liable to encourage aspirations for independence in regions of their territories where ethnic groups are concentrated.

Amid the remains of the celebration that greeted early risers yesterday were dozens of posters expressing gratitude to the United States and Britain, which are seen as the driving forces behind the NATO intervention that drove out Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s army and brutal paramilitaries.

In Pristina, cars and buildings were covered with U.S. flags alongside the new Kosovar ensign, a far cry from the “Death to America” chants heard in some other Muslim countries.

“The U.S. — and the Western countries — were like an extra arm for us,” said Bardha Ajvazi, a student working part time at the Hotel Plaza. “Americans helped us get our freedom, and since then have helped the poor people here with financial assistance.”

It was a different story, however, 15 miles from the capital in Gracanica, an ethnic Serbian enclave where residents carried U.S. flags emblazoned with swastikas as they marched to protest Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.

NATO forces have been providing security in Kosovo for nine years and will stay there until Kosovo acquires its own capabilities, Mr. Burns said. About 17,000 NATO troops, including 1,600 Americans, are stationed in Kosovo.

“For nine years, Kosovo’s politicians could always pass the buck,” said Andrew Stroehlein of the International Crisis Group. “Only independence carries the kind of ultimate political responsibility that could focus minds.”

Nicholas Kralev reported from Washington and Simon Roughneen reported from Pristina. Leander Schaerlaeckens contributed to this report from Brussels.


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