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Serbia: U.S. Ambassador Says Violence 'Unacceptable'

(RFE/RL) In the wake of the violence that broke out in Belgrade on February 21 in response to Kosovo's declaration of independence, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Cameron Munter speaks to Branka Trivic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: Can you comment on the violence that broke out in Belgrade last week?

Cameron Munter: To emphasize a couple of points -- in the last few days, what we have noticed since the declaration of independence and the recognition by members of the international community, there has been a disturbing trend in the language used by some of the leadership of this country. Irresponsible hard-line nationalists, even in the government, have tried to equate what happened in Kosovo with violence. They have said, in essence, that because violence was done to us in Kosovo, violence is legitimate in response. In fact, no violence was done in Kosovo, there was a diplomatic decision that many in this country do not agree with. And that is certainly their right, and we are sympathetic to the fact that this is an emotional issue. But that was not violence. Violence is when a mob attacks an embassy, or when people threaten people elsewhere -- say, in northern Mitrovica -- and that is absolutely unacceptable.

Real violence is unacceptable, especially, if it comes, if it is incited by those who seem to think that they can equate a diplomatic decision with violence. We are very disturbed by that, we call on the government of Prime Minister [Voijslav] Kostunica to disavow this kind of language. The UN has called on specifically minister [for Kosovo Slobodan] Samardzic to stop this [inciting] language, and we demand that they do that. Because they are making a situation, which is very difficult for everyone -- more difficult for themselves, and ultimately this will lead to their diplomatic isolation, which no one wants.

RFE/RL: You sent a very strong message in reported comments, stressing that if attacks like those we saw on February 21 repeat themselves, you will resort to measures not seen thus far. Could you specify what you mean by this?

Munter: What I said in my interviews was that this better not happen again. OK? I'd given that very strong message to the government. Because of the way the events unfolded last Thursday, I have lost confidence that the government is committed to what, under international law, it is obliged to do -- to protect the embassies of the United States, of Germany, of Britain, of Croatia, of all the countries, who, in this case, had recognized Kosovo, all diplomatic establishments.

Until this government is willing to condemn violence, until this government is willing to do something about it, we cannot be confident in their actions. America wants to be a friend of this country, and I realize that many people in this country are not receptive of that message, and I understand that. But as long as there is violence, as long as there is no sense that this government is willing to protect diplomatic establishments, there is no way to move forward. And my feeling is that most people in this country, despite their own very heart-felt concerns about Kosovo, want to move forward to a better future. And, frankly, want to do it with us.

RFE/RL: What message did you give Prime Minister Kostunica while rioters were attacking the embassy?

Munter: [U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs] Nick Burns told him four things. Nick Burns said that he demanded that our embassy -- and embassies of the other members of the international community -- be defended. That the protesters, who had been allowed to come in -- because of the inner tension in the police -- be removed and prosecuted, arrested and prosecuted. That he state publicly this would never happen again. And that he would follow this with actions, making sure it would not happen again. Mr. Kostunica assured Mr. Burns that it would never happen again. I have not seen a public demonstration of this promise that he gave to Mr. Burns, and I call on the prime minister to make this promise that he condemns the violence, and promises it would never happen again.

RFE/RL: As you are probably aware, members of the government have said they were pleased with the job the police did on the night of the riots. Do you care to comment on this?

Munter: It is hard for me to believe that anyone of good will would be pleased by a situation in which the police failed to provide adequate protection, not only for us, the diplomats here, but even for the stores, for the people of this city, where rioters went on a rampage and destroyed a great amount of property. I can only imagine that he -- if he said this, or others said this -- that they are either misinformed, or that they are referring to something other than what I saw. That's the most charitable thing that I can say.

RFE/RL: Prime Minister Kostunica said that Serbia will not normalize relations with any of the countries that have recognized Kosovo until this recognition is revoked. What is your reply to this?

Munter: I am sorry to hear that, because I think most people in this country -- not the people who, in this sense, represent a kind of a hard-line nationalist position -- [but] most people in this county want to be part of the European mainstream. Most of the people in this country voted for Boris Tadic -- 2.3 million voters -- on the basis that this was the way to get them back into Europe, to get them back into the mainstream they deserve to be in, that they were in so many years ago in Yugoslavia, before the crimes of Milosevic brought them to the situation that they are today. So I think people want that, and I don't understand why it is in the interests of those people who this government represents, to try to push the country into isolation.

RFE/RL: Do you feel that the European Union was a bit too slow in extending promises that would allow Serbia to accelerate its path toward Euro-Atlantic integration? Some say the EU was too vague, and that too many conditions were placed on Serbia.

Munter: Entering the European Union is not a right, it is something you really have to fight hard to get. It is not something that I think the Europeans spend a lot of time begging people to do. The Europeans, in my opinion, have made it clear that they want Serbia to join. They want Serbia in, just as they want Kosovo in. just as they want to see all of the Balkans in, in a united and friendly situation. I don't think they have been too slow. I think that perhaps the signals have been misread here by some people. But I think that the conviction on the part of the European Union -- that Serbia is welcomed -- is very deep, and very strong.

RFE/RL: Do you expect Serbian-American relations to improve in the near future, or do you think they will deteriorate?

Munter: I have to tell you, that it was very, very disappointing for me, to see that the government of Serbia was unwilling to guarantee the safety [for] the American, and indeed the international community's diplomatic establishments and people. That surprised me. Because since I've been here, I've had a very, very positive experience, and I have been treated very well by Serbian people, and I've learned to trust them. This experience has made me cast doubt on that trust. So when answering your question, I have to say I am being very watchful. Because, even thought I have a great deal of faith in Serbian people, and I have a great deal of faith in the potential of this country -- just as our assistance programs put millions of dollars in this country, because we believe it can live a better life, because our investors come here, and create jobs for Serbs, because we believe they are good workers, and good friends. And because our military works with the military here, to train them, not only to defend Serbia, but to defend democratic interests around the world. I have a broad optimism. But that has been cast in doubt by the governments' apparent inability to guarantee our safety. So I have to say to answer your question -- I'll watch, and I'll see."

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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