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Published: Friday, 2/22/2008

U.S. orders diplomats to leave Serbia, embassies on alert across Balkans after Belgrade attack

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON, D.C. The State Department on Friday ordered nonessential diplomats and the families of all American personnel at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade to leave Serbia, following an attack on the compound.

The move, made at the request of U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Cameron Munter, came as U.S. diplomats across the Balkans went on alert, girding for more anti-American violence after Serb rioters stormed and torched the Belgrade embassy Thursday, causing as-yet undetermined damage and drawing fierce condemnation from Washington.

"We are not sufficiently confident that they are safe here," Munter said in an interview in Belgrade.

A State Department official said 14 embassy employees were on the site when a mob attacked but that all American and local staff are safe. The charred body of one person found in the compound is believed to be that of a protester, spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Protests over the declaration of independence by the former Serbian province of Kosovo have increased tensions across the region. And new mass demonstrations are expected following recognition of Kosovo by the United States and other Western countries.

At the same time, third-ranking U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns called on Serbia's main ally Russia to repudiate a suggestion by one of its officials that it may need to use military force to earn respect after the U.S. and other countries recognized the independence of Kosovo, which is mainly ethnic Albanian, over strong Serb and Russian protests.

"We strongly advise Russia to be more responsible in its public comments toward Kosovo," Burns said, responding to questions in an online written discussion. "Russia is isolated this week very few countries are supporting its position."

Earlier, Russia's envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said the move to recognize was Kosovo a "strategic mistake" and suggested that Moscow might "have to use brute military force" if the alliance expands its current peacekeeping operation in the territory.

The decision to implement what is known as an "ordered departure" at the Belgrade embassy will affect some of the between 80 and 100 Americans who work at the embassy, but it was not clear how many of them or how many family members would be affected by the order.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that the Bush administration believes the attack on the embassy in Belgrade was "conducted by hooligans and thugs."

"We don't believe that this is the face that Serbia wants to present to the world, and we quite frankly don't believe that this is the face of Serbia," Stanzel said. "We want to continue to work to integrate Serbia into European institutions."

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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