SKOPJE (Reuters) - Serbia’s neighbors Montenegro and Macedonia recognized Kosovo on Thursday in a blow to Belgrade’s efforts to counter the secession of its former province.
On Wednesday, the U.N. General Assembly supported Serbia’s initiative to seek an International Court of Justice opinion on the legality of the independence declaration made by Kosovo in February and recognized by more than 40, mostly Western states.
Serbia had hoped that it would stop the further recognition of its former province.
Montenegro and Macedonia, the only two former Yugoslav republics that ended their union with Serbia peacefully, recognized Kosovo on Thursday and issued a joint statement.
“The decision to recognize Kosovo ... is the result of thorough political assessment,” said the statement issued in Skopje following a government session.
“We hope it will be understood by Belgrade,” Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki told journalists after the Macedonian government formally announced the decision.
“We hope that our relations with Serbia will remain friendly,” Montenegro Foreign Minister Milan Rocen said in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said that in response to the move, his government would ask Montenegro’s ambassador to leave the country. “We consider this to be an adequate response,” he told the state news agency Tanjug.
Pro-Serb parties in Montenegro have threatened to protest if the government made what Jeremic said would be “a knife stabbed in Serbia’s back.”
“They (Montenegro and Macedonia) are being blackmailed by certain states which threaten to make problems for their European integration,” Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Konuzin told Reuters.
The U.S. State Department welcomed the decision by Montenegro and Macedonia and said it looked forward to “additional recognitions in the coming months.”
“The growing number of recognitions is an affirmation of Kosovo’s progress in establishing a stable, multiethnic, democratic society that seeks normal political and trade relations with its neighbors and the greater international community,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
The Macedonian government has been under pressure for months from its ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up a third of its 2 million residents, to recognize its northern neighbor.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to stop the killing of civilians in a two-year counterinsurgency war.
Serbia recalled ambassadors from all countries that recognized Kosovo’s February 17 declaration of independence, but decided on Thursday to reinstate ambassadors to all countries, including the United States.
The ambassadors were reinstated in the European Union member states in July after a pro-Western government took over.
Additional reporting by Kole Casule in Skopje, Ljilja Cvekic and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade, Dusko Mihailovic in Podgorica; Editing by Adam Tanner and Peter Cooney