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Serbia Recalls Ambassador As Canada Recognizes Kosovo Independence

Serbia is recalling its ambassador and issuing a diplomatic protest after Canada announced Tuesday that it is recognizing Kosovo as an independent state.

Serbian Ambassador Dusan Vatakovic told The Canadian Press that Ottawa informed him Tuesday of the decision to recognize Kosovo — and he predicted the move will cause domestic headaches for Ottawa.

The ambassador said he is being temporarily recalled to Belgrade for consultation.

“Tomorrow afternoon I will present the official protest of the Serbian government to the Canadian government, and I will be recalled for consultations in Belgrade within 48 hours,” Vatakovic said.

“They have decided to recognize the independence of Kosovo after Japan, as the last member of the G7, did the same. And they felt obliged to show solidarity with their allies.”

Serbia considers Kosovo’s independence declaration illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which asserted Serbia’s control over the province.

Recognition of Kosovo’s self-declared independence has been a troubling issue for the Canadian government.

About 30 countries have recognized Kosovo since the province declared itself independent of Serbia on Feb. 17. Another two dozen or so, including Russia, are strongly opposed.

Canada has remained mum on the issue partly because recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence could allow Quebec separatists to claim they could leave Canada the same way — with a one-sided declaration.

There have also been fears it would provoke anger among Canada’s small, but vocal, Serbian ethnic community. There have been numerous protests across the country since the declaration.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said Canada is following in the footsteps of its G7 allies, which have already recognized Kosovo. He dismissed suggestions that the move will have implications for Quebec, saying the Kosovo situation is “unique.”

However, Vatakovic predicted the move will have repercussions for Canada and other countries facing independence movements. He noted that Quebec politicians are already alluding to the implications.

“This dangerous precedent will obviously have a long-term effect on many separatist movements all over the globe, starting from the last corner of southeast Asia to the northernmost parts of America,” he said.

“What we have seen is that certain separatist political parties have said clearly — Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois — that they support the independence of Kosovo, not because Kosovo deserves it, but because it will be a very useful precedent for themselves in the near future.”

Canada was part of a NATO force that intervened militarily in Kosovo in 1999 to stop Serbian attacks on the civilian population.

Kosovo, which is 90 per cent ethnic Albanian, has not been under Serbian control since the NATO force moved in on the heels of massive air strikes.

A UN mission has governed Kosovo since, but Serbia and Kosovo’s Serbs — who make up less than 10 per cent of the population — refuse to give up a territory they consider to be the ancient cradle of the Serbian state and religion.

The Foreign Affairs Department issued a warning to Canadian travellers in the region after violent demonstrations and political gatherings were held in Serbia and Kosovo.

Rioting broke out Feb. 21 in Belgrade, where demonstrators stormed the U.S. Embassy and set part of it ablaze.

Photo courtesy Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images.