U.S., European powers endorse Kosovo independence

The U.S. on Monday joined Britain, France, Germany and Italy in supporting Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, a move not unanimously endorsed by the European Union.

The United States on Monday joined Britain, France, Germany and Italy in supporting Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia, a move not unanimously endorsed by the European Union.

Police block Kosovar Serbs from the bridge that separates Serbs and Albanians in the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo, on Monday. ((Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press))

"The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

The official recognition from the U.S. came hours after President George W. Bush said in an interview that "the Kosovars are now independent.

"It's something that I've advocated, along with my government," Bush said.

Serbia recalled its ambassador from Washington, D.C., shortly after the Americans gave their support to Kosovo, and threatened to recall its envoys from all nations that establish diplomatic ties with Kosovo, though it won't sever relations.

The Canadian government is considering whether to formally recognize Kosovo, as the international community continues to be split on how to respond to the province's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.

As Kosovo's leaders sent out 192 letters to the world's nations Monday seeking formal recognition of independence, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting requested by Russia and Serbia, who have denounced the Kosovars' move as illegal.

Kosovo legislators declared the province an independent nation on Sunday in defiance of the Serbian government and Russia.

Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, worked to stem the tide of diplomatic recognition of the new country by arguing at the emergency session that an independent Kosovo violates the council's orders.

Russia and Serbia were expected to argue that under the United Nations charter, secession movements by provinces or territories are illegal without permission from the main country, CBC's Neil Herland had earlier reported.

But the U.S. and European countries are expected to counter that Kosovo is a unique exception and that allowing it independence is the best way to ensure protection of its civilians, Herland said.

Countries divided

The province has formally remained a part of Serbia, but has been run by the United Nations from Belgrade since 1999, when NATO air strikes ended a Serbian crackdown on Albanian separatists that killed 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels Monday, member countries were deeply divided over whether to recognize Kosovo.

Kosovo's declaration was "a great success for Europe, a great success for the Kosovars and certainly not a defeat for the Serbs," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Brussels.

Spain, which has battled a violent Basque separatist movement for decades, said the independence bid was illegal under international law.

Greece, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia have expressed the same view.

Difference between Kosovo, Canada

Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament, said if the EU does not speak with one voice to support Kosovo, the results could be disastrous.

"What will happen is we will be giving support to those who want a return to violence in the region and of course we would be dignifying the position of the Russians, who are frankly quite isolated in the UN and other international institutions."

Aurel Braun, of the international relations program at the University of Toronto, said the Canadian government wants to ensure the province is a democratic entity that respects the rule of law and human rights.

He told CBC News that Canada is also worried about separatism, although there are significant differences between the situation in Kosovo and Canada.

"While I'm sure Canada will be recognizing Kosovo, I would be skeptical if Canada would be the first or one of the very first countries. It may be prudent to wait a little bit, but I don't think Canada will be too far along in recognizing Kosovo."

On Monday, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said in Quebec City that Canada should follow the lead of other countries and recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

The Parti Québécois sent congratulations to Kosovars on Sunday.

About 90 per cent of Kosovo's two million people are ethnic Albanians. Most of its minority Serbs live in isolated enclaves and feel unprotected and vulnerable.

About 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are bolstering security and the alliance increased its patrols heading into the weekend in hopes of discouraging violence.

With files from the Associated Press