World News

Turkey to recognize Kosovo independence: Foreign Minister

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has decided to recognize Kosovo as an independent state, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on Monday, a day after the breakaway majority Albanian province declared its independence from Serbia.

Turkey’s recognition is symbolically important because Ottoman Turks ruled the Balkans, including Serbia and Kosovo, for centuries. Orthodox Christian Serbs still mourn their military defeat in Kosovo in 1389 at Muslim Turkish hands.

“The Republic of Turkey ... has decided to recognize the independence of the Republic of Kosovo,” Babacan said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

Turkey seeks lasting peace and stability in the Balkan region, he said, adding that Ankara hopes to continue improving its relations with Serbia.

Ankara’s relations with Belgrade, strained during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s when Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo came under Serbian attack, have improved considerably since the overthrow in 2000 of Slobodan Milosevic.

Ankara has played host separately to the presidents of both Serbia and Kosovo in recent weeks.

“Turkey believes that the rule of law and the universal values of human rights, democracy and pluralism should be promoted in Kosovo,” Babacan said in his statement.

Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rang Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci to congratulate him on his territory’s declaration of independence. Erdogan made no comment about Turkish recognition of Kosovo independence.

Turkey, a candidate for European Union membership, has traditionally viewed itself as a protector and mentor of Balkan Muslims in ex-Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece.

Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Elizabeth Piper