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Europe

Separatists Damper EU Support for Independent Kosovo

European backing for Kosovo's independence has been held back by worries in some EU capitals that it could inspire separatists in their own countries. Some leaders want the UN to rule on Kosovo's status.

People dance with the Albanian and Kosovo flag while celebrating

Kosovo's new flag (right) doesn't resemble the Albanian one (left)

While Britain, France, Germany and Italy, along with the United States, were expected to recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia, several other EU nations have said they will not be sending ambassadors to Pristina soon.

Great Britain said it regarded Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday, Feb. 17, as "an important development," but it will wait until a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday to make a formal statement, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on "all parties" to exercise moderation. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he wished Kosovo "good luck" following its vote for independence.

Russia strongly opposed to independence

While thousands of Kosovars danced in the streets of Pristina waving US, British, French, German, Italian flags in tribute to countries that supported the break Kosovo made from Serbia.

Turkish, Italian, Dutch and US flags painted on a wall in Kosovo

Not everyone in the EU received a Thank You from Kosovars on Sunday

"This is the happiest day ever in my life. I'm proud of our nation, which should be thankful eternally to the US, and to the EU too," Gazmend Halimi, 22, told the DPA news agency.

But not all the EU is behind Kosovo's decision.

Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain oppose recognizing Kosovo. Others, including Malta and Portugal, want Kosovo's future be decided at the UN Security Council. With veto-wielding Russia opposed to Kosovo's independence, there is no chance of a UN Security Council resolution formalizing the Pristina parliament's decision.

Some EU members -- as well as Russia -- see Kosovo as potentially setting a dangerous precedent for other separatist movements, despite reassurances from Brussels that Kosovo is a unique case.

Cyprus is already split, and Spain has long been confronted with Basque and Catalan nationalists.

Montage of the EU flag and Kosovar leaders

Some in the EU worry Kosovars may embolden separatists in their own countries

"We do not support a unilateral declaration of independence," Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said on local radio Saturday. "We think that ... it should have been in agreement with the various parties, which is not the case, or in line with international standards, that is to say with a (UN) Security Council resolution."

Common stance elusive

EU foreign ministers are expected to show as much unity as possible during a meeting on Monday. An official with the EU's presidency, currently held by Slovenia, told the AFP news agency that EU foreign ministers will want to "take note" of the changes in Kosovo, but even this simple task is proving difficult to put to paper in the form of a declaration.

"What's important is the confirmation of the goal the EU has: that Kosovo has a democratic, stable and multi-ethnic future and that this is all based on a European perspective," the EU diplomat said.

Scores of joyous Kosovo emigrants from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, gathered outside European institutions in Brussels Sunday in advance of the announcement.

"We have waited over 100 years for this and we are more than ready to become an independent state, above all a democratic state" writer-activist Halit Elshani, who fled Kosovo in 1999, told AFP.

EU mission to ease transition

Barbed wire fence on a bridge in Kosovo

The EU wants to help create a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, after NATO bombed Belgrade to end a bloody crackdown on Albanian separatists, but the province has officially remained part of Serbia.

Belgrade remains implacably opposed to losing the region which it considers the cradle of its Serbian culture.

The European Union has already taken one major step towards easing Kosovo's independence by launching a police and justice mission.

The 2,000-strong mission will be fully operational after a 120-day transition period, and aims to train and mentor police, judges and customs officials.

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