- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

PARIS (AP) - Members of the U.N. cultural agency narrowly rejected Kosovo’s bid for membership on Monday in a victory for Serbia and Russia and a blow to Kosovo’s mission for global recognition as a state.

Most nations that participated in the vote at UNESCO headquarters in Paris favored Kosovo’s membership, with 92 “yes” votes and 50 “no” votes and 29 abstentions.

But the bid needed the support of two-thirds of those voting, or more than 94 “yes” votes, said Stanley Mutumba Simataa, the Namibian diplomat presiding over the vote.

In Pristina, Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga told The Associated Press the decision was disappointing but vowed to push on with efforts to become “an equal member of the international community.”

“This is a missed opportunity to stay true to what the organization stands for, which is inclusion and promotion of cooperation,” he said.

Serbian officials, on the other hand, were jubilant. “This decision reflects our intention never to give up Kosovo,” Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said.

The heated debate highlighted east-west battle lines and tapped into concerns in some countries that have their own separatist movements.

Kosovo has been recognized by 111 countries since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Russia, which backed Serbia in Kosovo’s 1998-99 separatist war, has used its Security Council veto to block Kosovo from becoming a full U.N. member.

Kosovo has won membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Kosovo’s predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership had promised that if it became a UNESCO member, it would protect the cultural heritage of Serbs, despite tensions that have lingered since the war.

Serbia had warned that allowing Kosovo into UNESCO would fuel those tensions and hurt an EU-brokered dialogue aimed at normalizing ties between the former foes.

The U.S. delegation supported Kosovo’s bid, but no longer has voting rights in UNESCO because of a funding flap.

Kosovo applied for UNESCO membership in September, and last month the UNESCO Executive Board recommended that it be admitted during the body’s General Conference from Nov. 3 to 18.

The Serbian and Russian delegations to UNESCO, apparently expecting the bid to win approval, argued Monday for the vote to be delayed. The request was rejected.

Spain, which has concerns about separatists in its northeastern region of Catalonia, voted no. Ukraine, in a territorial conflict with Russia, abstained.

“At the very least, I expected that all states that had recognized Kosovo would support Kosovo’s membership. Instead, a number of these states abstained, including Japan, South Korea and Poland,” said Richard Caplan, professor of international relations at Oxford University.

“One would have expected Kosovo’s allies (such as the U.S., Britain, Germany) to have known whether there was sufficient support for Kosovo. They would not have supported Kosovo’s bid if they had not thought there was enough support,” he said.

Kosovo Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci wrote on Facebook that Kosovo would apply for UNESCO membership again, saying “Kosovo’s path is unstoppable.”

Kosovo came under U.N. and NATO administration after a 1999 NATO-led air war halted a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

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Gresa Kraja in Pristina, Kosovo, and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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