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Albania Muslims To Urge Arabs To Recognize Kosovo

Kosovo Albanians celebrate independence in February 2008
TIRANA (Reuters) -- Albania's Muslims will send a petition with more than 50,000 signatures to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on February 15 to urge its members to recognize Kosovo, organizers said.

Their appeal will come two days before Kosovo celebrates the first anniversary of its independence from Serbia.

The United States and many European countries have recognized the mainly Albanian, mainly Muslim country, but most Arab countries have not.

"To us as Muslims, it came as a surprise that the Arab world did not recognize Kosovo. We thought of appealing to the countries that helped the Kosovo people with humanitarian aid in 1999," said Agim Baci, one of the organizers of the petition.

When Kosovo refugees streamed into Albania proper to escape ethnic cleansing under Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 1999, Arab countries set up camps to feed and shelter them.

NATO forces and the United Nations ran Kosovo from 1999 until independence. Serbia sees Kosovo as the cradle of its Orthodox faith, and has vowed never to recognize Kosovo.

Baci, a journalist and Muslim scholar, said Christian Orthodox and Catholic believers also signed the petition.

The 57-member OIC, based in Saudi Arabia, represents 1.5 billion Muslims. Prime Minister Sali Berisha made Albania a member of the OIC in December 1992.

Around 70 percent of Albania's 3.2 million people are of Muslim background, but many of them are not active believers.