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Kosovo children cheer and wave U.S. and Kosovo flags as US Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Pristina
Biden received a hero's welcome on the streets of Kosovo's capital city PristinaImage: AP

Time for optimism?

May 22, 2009

At the end of a three-day visit to Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, US Vice President Joe Biden said that the real challenge facing the Balkans today was ethnic integration, but that reconciliation couldn't happen overnight.


"What we are talking about now is real integration, not just the elimination of carnage and brutality," Biden told journalists in Pristina on Thursday, May 21. "But this is where it really gets hard and it's going to take time."

A decade ago, the US-led NATO intervention against Serbia ousted its security forces from Kosovo to end a brutal campaign against ethnic Albanians. It also set the foundation for the deployment of NATO peacekeepers and a UN civilian mission to run the then Serbian province. Last year, Kosovo - strongly encouraged by Washington - unilaterally declared its independence.

As a result, Kosovo Albanians, a 90-percent majority in the Serbian breakaway region, regard Washington as their closest ally, while Belgrade maintains sore, wary relations with the US.

"Things are drastically better than when I was last here, with a long way to go and in a sense the hardest piece to go," Biden said referring to travels at the beginning of the decade, when he visited the region as a senator.

Between Belgrade and Pristina

A man runs to board a bus past graffiti reading
Many Serbs would agree with this Belgrade graffiti, which reads "Kosovo is Serbia"Image: AP

The US vice president endorsed Kosovo's sovereignty and ruled out its partition along ethnic lines.

"The success of Kosovo's independence is a priority of the US administration," he said in an address to the Kosovo parliament. "We are ready to help you build your country."

But he also warned legislators of "many challenges" the country will face as it tries to bolster democratic reforms and pave the way for the return of Serbs who fled Albanian attacks in the wake of the NATO bombing.

"There's still work to be done," he said. "We urge you to consolidate your country in transparency, reinforce the rule of law, continue to strengthen the judiciary. Conditions should be met for the return of the refugees."

In Belgrade a day before, Biden told President Boris Tadic that the US does not expect Serbia to recognize Kosovo "any time soon," but urged the country instead to work with the international community to rebuild the former province.

US, Russia clash over Kosovo

Flames from an explosion light up the Belgrade skyline after a NATO attack in 1999
Belgrade lost control over Kosovo after a NATO intervention in 1999Image: AP

Officially, the United Nations remains in charge of Kosovo. The 15-nation Security Council has not been able to alter the UN mandate because its members are split over what to do with the UN presence there and the legality of Pristina's declaration of independence.

Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council and Serbia's ally, has said it would not recognize an independent Kosovo and has supported Belgrade's bid to challenge the declaration before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

According to the US vice president, however, there is no way back.

"Your independence is irreversible," he told lawmakers in Pristina.

Biden left Kosovo for Beirut on Friday, May 22, where he is expected to bolster US support for pro-Western forces ahead of Lebanese elections.


Editor: Nick Amies

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