ZAGREB (AFP) — Croatia and two other neighbours of Serbia recognised Kosovo's independence Wednesday, in a new blow to Belgrade's resistance to losing the province and its delicate post-war ties with Zagreb.
Serbia immediately warned the three that their relations with Belgrade would suffer for joining the growing list of nations giving diplomatic support to Kosovo.
Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary announced their move in a joint statement, saying the decision was "based on thorough consideration."
Thirty-two countries now recognise Kosovo's independence, which the Serbian province's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament unilaterally declared on February 17.
The latest acceptances came two days after the worst violence in Kosovo since the proclamation, which is bitterly opposed by the Belgrade government and Kosovo Serbs, who are outnumbered by ethnic Albanians by more than nine to one.
A UN policeman was killed and more than 150 people wounded in the flashpoint northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica on Monday in clashes between international security forces and anti-independence Serbs.
Zagreb and Budapest formalised their recognition after cabinet meetings, with Sofia due to make an official announcement later on Thursday.
Croatia's government said in a statement it "accepted" Kosovo's independence, prompting deputy prime minister Slobodan Uzelac, who represents the country's Serb minority, to immediately tender his resignation in protest.
In the statement, Zagreb stressed its "readiness to continue developing universal and intensive relations with Serbia."
"Ties between the countries in the region are of special importance and their lasting stability remains an irreplaceable factor of peace and security in Europe."
Croatia's recognition, the second by a former Yugoslav republic after Slovenia, is expected to be the most sensitive, as it threatens to harm delicate post-war ties between the two neighbours.
Ahead of the announcement, Serbian President Boris Tadic had warned Croatia against the move, saying it would have an "immediate impact on our bilateral ties."
Relations had gradually improved since the 1991-95 break-up of Yugoslavia, when ethnic Serb rebels backed by the Belgrade regime of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic opposed Croatia's own independence.
Earlier, announcing its decision, Budapest called on Belgrade to ensure the safety of 350,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Vojvodina, a Serbian province where nationalists have targeted the minority in the past.
The three countries said they wanted to ensure stability in the Balkans and give Serbia and other nations, including Croatia, hope for their future integration in the European Union, which Bulgaria and Hungary have already joined.
But Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic reacted frostily.
"Every country that makes this move cannot count on good relations with us," Jeremic said on a trip to Athens. "Every country that recognizes the illegal state of Kosovo violates international law."
Kosovo, which Serbs consider a cradle of their civilisation, has been under UN administration since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop Belgrade's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Belgrade, which has so far recalled ambassadors from 29 countries that accepted Kosovo's independence, had yet to announce any response to the latest recognitions.
"Belgrade is in a very awkward position ... due to the fact there is a Serb minority in Croatia," said Croatian political analyst Davor Gjenero.
Kosovo's independence has been recognised by the United States and most of the EU, including Britain, France and Germany.
Serbia has been backed by traditional ally Russia in opposing independence.
It is also supported by EU states Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, which along with several other countries including China fear the move could encourage separatists at home.
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