- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Serb out of town

Serbian Ambassador Ivan Vujacic left Washington yesterday, as his government protested U.S. recognition of independence for Kosovo and members of Congress debated whether Kosovo’s action will bring stability or renewed conflict in Europe’s historically volatile Balkan Peninsula.

The deputy chief of mission, Vladimir Petrovic, assumed the duties of charge d’affaires to function as head of the embassy until the ambassador returns from Belgrade, where he traveled for consultations with his government. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica ordered the recall of ambassadors from countries that recognized Kosovo, after the former Serbian province declared independence on Sunday.

In addition to the United States, those countries include Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Fourteen other nations of the European Union were expected to open diplomatic relations with the ethnic-Albanian Muslim-majority country.

At the Serbian Embassy in Northwest Washington, all diplomatic services will continue during the ambassador’s absence, said spokeswoman Jelena Matic.

“We are continuing to function normally,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, members of Congress split over the wisdom of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.

Rep. Dan Burton, founding chairman of the Congressional Serbian Caucus, said he feared Kosovo’s action will “spark another round of violence” like the program in the 1990s when Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Albanians in Kosovo. Since then, Albanians have forced most Serbs out of the region.

Mr. Burton, Indiana Republican, criticized Kosovo for “walking away” from negotiations with Serbia, which offered autonomy within the nation but strongly opposed independence.

“This separation has occurred despite concerted efforts on behalf of Serbia to engage in negotiations to determine a mutually agreed upon solution that would ensure a peaceful, prosperous future for Serbs and Kosovo Albanians alike,” he said.

The co-chairmen of the congressional human rights panel, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, applauded Kosovo’s action.

“Kosovo’s decision to declare independence begins a new chapter in its history, and we remain committed to encouraging the new state to develop democratic institutions and respect human rights,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat.

‘Private visit’

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines is trying to help restart peace talks between Muslim rebels and the Philippine government.

Ambassador Kristie Kenney yesterday paid what she called a “private visit” to leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a truce with the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2003. However, peace talks have stalled over rebel demands for some autonomy in Muslim-dominated areas. Mrs. Kenney declined to comment further on her hourlong visit with rebel leader Muhammad Murad.

However, Mr. Murad told Agence France-Presse that he expected to resume peace talks next month.

“We are just discussing some issues, and we are returning to the peace table next month,” Mr. Murad said.

He added that Mrs. Kenney asked the rebels to support annual military exercises between U.S. and Filipino troops, which began Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm a great partnership that’s been going on for so many years between our militaries and our people,” Mrs. Kenney said at the opening of the maneuvers.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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