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Experts Weigh Serbian Unrest Over Kosovo’s Future

The U.S. began evacuating embassy staff and their families from Belgrade, Serbia, Friday after rioters attacked the American embassy to protest U.S. support for Kosovo's independence. Experts on the Balkans examine the roots of the unrest and the future for Kosovo.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Ray Suarez has our Serbia-Kosovo story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Security was heavy today outside the charred U.S. embassy in Belgrade, as residents of Serbia's capital came to see the destruction. Some echoed the commentary in this morning's Serb newspapers that blamed the mob for taking things too far.

  • SERBIAN CITIZEN (through translator):

    They shouldn't have broken and damaged everything. That deserves punishment. But I am in support of the demonstration and protecting our country and our nation.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Hundreds of thousands of Serbs took to the streets yesterday to protest the U.S. recognition of an independent Kosovo.

    Later, a crowd of about 100 broke off, setting part of the U.S. embassy ablaze. One charred body, believed to be a protester, was found in the building.

    Until last Sunday, Kosovo was part of Serbia, and a region Serbia considered its historical heartland. Serb nationalists also took aim at other U.S. interests in Belgrade, including this McDonald's.

    Embassies of other nations that have recognized Kosovo's independence, like Turkey and Britain, were also targets. More than a dozen countries, led by the U.S., have now officially recognized Kosovo.

    Yesterday's were the most violent demonstrations in five days of protests following the declaration of independence.

    Kosovar authorities are also stepping up security along the border. Busloads of Serbs have crossed into Kosovo in recent days.

    Many joined protests in Mitrovica, an ethnically divided city in the north. Today, rioters hurled stones at U.N. police there who were guarding a key bridge that separates the city.

    At the same time, the Serb government presented a divided front. First, President Boris Tadic spoke in Romania.

  • BORIS TADIC, President, Serbia (through translator):

    I appeal to everyone taking part in riots or disorder to pull back from the streets and stop attacking the embassies. It does not contribute to the defense of Kosovo or to the defense of our integrity and dignity. It only distances Kosovo from Serbia.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told a crowd Kosovo would always be part of Serbia.

  • VOJISLAV KOSTUNICA, Prime Minister, Serbia (through translator):

    Is there anyone among us who is not from Kosovo? Is there anyone among us who thinks that Kosovo is not ours?

    Kosovo, that is the first name of Serbia. Kosovo belongs to Serbia, and Kosovo belongs to Serbian people. That's how it was in the past, and that's how it is going to be in the future.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The U.S. reacted swiftly. It blamed lax Serb security outside the embassy and pushed through a U.N. resolution that condemned the attack.

    America's U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: I'm outraged by the mob attack against the U.S. embassy in Belgrade. The embassy is sovereign U.S. territory. The government of Serbia has a responsibility under international law to protect diplomatic facilities, particularly embassies.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The State Department also ordered an evacuation of all nonessential American personnel and their families from Belgrade. There are about 100 American employees at the embassy.

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