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Bush Backs Kosovo Independence

President Bush says he is backing independence for Kosovo because he believes it will bring peace to the Balkans. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports Russia and Serbia say Kosovo's unilateral declaration sets a dangerous precedent for separatist movements, worldwide.

President Bush says he has made clear to Russia, all along, that he supports Kosovo's independence because he believes it is an historic step toward peace.

"We've been working very closely with the Russians, as we have with the Europeans and other nations on Kosovo's independence, because we believe it's the right thing to do," the president said. "You know, there's a disagreement, but we believe, as do many other nations, that history will prove this to be a correct move, to bring peace to the Balkans."

Speaking to reporters in Tanzania before he traveled to Rwanda, Mr. Bush again urged the predominantly-Albanian Kosovo to protect the rights of minority Serbs.

"Kosovo committed itself to the highest standards of democracy, including freedom and tolerance and justice for citizens of all ethnic backgrounds," he said. "These are principles that honor human dignity. They are values America looks for in a friend and, soon, we will establish full diplomatic relations with the new nation of Kosovo."

President Bush says the United States and its allies will work to bring about a smooth and peaceful transition to independence.

Serbia says it will make every effort to retain the territory, rejecting the declaration as a travesty of international law that will not add stability to the Balkans.

Serbia has recalled its ambassador from Washington because of the U.S. decision and says it will recall all ambassadors from countries that recognize the independent province.

In an emergency U.N. Security Council session, Russia joined Serbia in denouncing Kosovo's declaration as a violation of Security Council orders.

Serbia wants U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to declare Kosovo's decision null and void. Mr. Ban has refused to declare that independence either legal or illegal and is calling on all sides to refrain from actions or statements that could jeopardize regional peace.

France, Britain, Belgium, and Italy have welcomed Kosovo's independence. Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania are among those who oppose it.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) air strikes halted Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists and drove Serbian security forces from the province.