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Kosovar Serbs Declare Putin 'Honorary Citizen Of Kosovo'

A Kosovo Serbian woman holds a religious icon and portrait of Russian leader Vladimir Putin during a protest in Mitrovica in February 2008.
ZUBIN POTOK, Kosovo -- Serbian leaders in northern Kosovo have declared Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin an "honorary citizen of Kosovo," RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

The ceremony honoring Putin took place in Zubin Potok, a town 50 kilometers north of Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

Radovan Nicic, a representative from the predominantly Serb-populated northern Kosovo, said Putin was given the award for his efforts to "safeguard the territorial integrity of Serbia" at the UN Security Council.

Kosovar Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi told RFE/RL the decision to honor Putin is a "pathetic move."

"[Kosovo Serb leaders in the north] still live in a dream world," he said. "They can declare [Putin] whatever they want, but he can in no way be an honorary citizen of Kosovo."

The Russian government has steadfastly refused to recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

Kosovo's statehood has been recognized by 75 countries, including the United States, Canada, and 22 of 27 EU members.

The honor for Putin was given to Andrei Shugurov, a representative of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade and Moscow's envoy in Pristina.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, a move firmly rejected by Serbia and its traditional ally, Russia.

Northern Kosovo is loyal to Belgrade and most of its institutions operate under Serbian jurisdiction, in parallel to Kosovar institutions.

The International Crisis Group said in a recent report that "the north will remain in effect under dual sovereignty: Kosovo's and Serbia's."

On March 8, Serbia and Kosovo began their first direct talks since Pristina declared independence. The dialogue has focused mainly on practical issues.

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