US orders diplomats to leave Serbia
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.”
American embassies in Serbia and at least three other former Yugoslav republics stepped up security, ordering diplomats to stay home or limit their movements and warning Americans to use extreme caution outside.
“American citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations and to exercise extreme caution,” the embassy said in a notice to Americans in Serbia.
Several other embassies in Belgrade as well as a McDonald’s restaurant were attacked by mobs on Thursday after a massive protest against Kosovo independence, and the warning noted that private businesses and organizations affiliated with the United States might also become targets for protesters.
“U.S. citizens are urged to avoid large crowds, maintain a low profile and review their personal protective measures,” the embassy said, adding that it would also be closed on Monday.
In Podgorica, the capital of neighboring Montenegro, which was once joined with Serbia, the U.S. Embassy and international school shut down ahead of a mass protest that it is feared could lead to violence, and the embassy warned of vandalism against U.S. citizens and their property.
In Bosnia, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo told diplomats to defer travel until further notice to the city of Banja Luka, where protesters on Thursday hurled rocks and stones at the U.S. Embassy branch.
In Kosovo itself, the State Department advised U.S. citizens against any travel to the northern part of the new country, where ethnic Serbs predominate.
In Greece and Austria, both of which have significant Serb populations, the U.S. embassies in Athens and Vienna warned of potential violence during planned weekend demonstrations against Kosovo’s declaration of independence.