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Bush Voices Support for Kosovo Independence

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2008 – President Bush voiced his support for Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia during an interview today with NBC in Arusha, Tanzania.

“We’ll watch and see how the events unfold today,” Bush said about the Balkan state. “But, the Kosovars are now independent. It’s something that I have advocated, along with my government.”

Yesterday, U.S. and NATO officials urged restraint following Kosovo's declaration of independence. Kosovo, a 90-percent ethnic Albanian enclave, has been under the sovereignty of Serbia where officials in the capital of Belgrade refused to relinquish the province.

As Albanian Kosovars celebrated yesterday's declaration with fireworks and parades, Serbia's prime minister dismissed Kosovo as a "false state" while protesters converged on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and rioting occurred elsewhere, according to reports.

Kosovo has been under United Nations administration and policed by 16,000 NATO peacekeepers, known as KFOR, following a U.S.-led bombing campaign in 1999 that expelled the Serb army and prevented "ethnic cleansing" of the region's Albanians. Some 1,500 U.S. forces are stationed in the province as part of KFOR.

"During this sensitive period, KFOR will respond swiftly and firmly against anyone who might resort to violence in Kosovo," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement yesterday. "NATO urges all parties involved to exercise the maximum restraint and moderation."

"On Kosovo, our position is that its status must be resolved in order for the Balkans to be stable," Bush said yesterday during a visit to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. "The United States will continue to work with our allies to do the very best we can to make sure there's no violence."

UN Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari has drawn up a plan for Kosovo's "supervised independence," that has been widely accepted by leaders in the U.S. and European nations.

"We have strongly supported the Ahtisaari plan," Bush said yesterday, adding that he is encouraged that Kosovo's leaders have shown its willingness and desire to support the rights of the province's Serb minority.

"We also believe it's in Serbia's interests to be aligned with Europe, and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America," he said.

A statement issued yesterday by the U.S. State Department called on all parties to "exercise the utmost restraint and to refrain from any provocative act," according to a Reuters report.

"The United States is now reviewing the issue and discussing the matter with its European partners," the statement said. "We expect to issue a statement shortly."

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