U.S. to Move Some Diplomats Out of Serbia
Friday, February 22, 2008; 3:43 PM
The State Department today ordered the families of U.S. diplomats and non-essential embassy personnel to leave Serbia, after riots yesterday led to a break-in at the embassy building in Belgrade.
Ambassador Cameron Munter initiated the request, concerned about the potential for additional violence by Serb protesters who are incensed by U.S. recognition of Kozovo's recently declared independence.
"It does not represent a change in our relations with Serbia," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "Ambassador Munter will be there and work will continue, but it's a request he's made based on concerns about security there and getting people who don't need to be there out of harm's way."
A rampaging crowd of several hundred demonstrators who oppose Kosovo's independence overran and burned part of the American Embassy in the Serbian capital on yesterday. The assault drew fierce protests from Washington and illustrated the rage in Serbia over the loss of its historic province.
"I'm outraged by the mob attack," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the attacks.
All U.S. personnel at the embassy were accounted for, but a badly burned body, apparently the remains of a protester, was found inside, U.S. officials said.
"It appeared to have been a protester who was caught in the fire that had been set by the protesters, not as a result of any interaction with U.S. security forces," said William H. Wanlund, an embassy spokesman.
Officials, including 70 diplomats who serve in Belgrade, were not in the embassy at the time of the attack. U.S. Marine guards and other security personnel were not in the chancery, the building that was attacked, when demonstrators entered, officials said.
Sunday's declaration of independence by Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian but is regarded by Serbs as the cradle of their civilization, sparked violence in Serb enclaves in Kosovo and stone-throwing at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade earlier in the week.
The United States has been an open sponsor of Kosovo's push for independence since a NATO bombing campaign drove Serbian forces from the province in 1999.
Yesterday's assault on the embassy came as the authorities in Belgrade held a rally that drew 200,000 people. Schools in Serbia were closed and free train rides were offered to encourage demonstrators to travel to the capital.