ZAGREB (Thomson Financial) - Croatia formally recognised Kosovo's independence from Serbia, its government said, in a move that threatens delicate post-war ties between the two former Yugoslav republics.
Within hours, Serbia reacted by recalling its ambassador in Zagreb, Radivoje Cveticanin, to Belgrade for consultations, as it handed a formal note to the Croatian foreign ministry voicing 'strong protest' over the move.
'The government has accepted the decision of the Kosovo parliament on declaring the independence of Kosovo on February 17,' the Croatian government said in a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.
It went on to stress 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,' it said.
But deputy prime minister Slobodan Uzelac, who represents the Serb minority in Croatia, immediately tendered his resignation in protest, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said.
'Uzelac didn't back this decision. He offered (to give up) his mandate... and that of his party. I deeply understand his gesture... but will not accept his resignation,' Sanader told journalists.
'We will wait for the decision of the SDSS,' he said in reference to a possible decision by Uzelac's Independent Serb Democratic Party to abandon its government role.
The SDSS has three deputies in Croatia's 153-seat parliament, including Uzelac, but its decision to leave the government does not endanger the ruling coalition.
The Croatian Serb party's leadership was to discuss the issue during the next few days.
Ethnic Serbs account for 4.5 pct of Croatia's 4.4 mln people.
Uzelac said the decision to recognise Kosovo could 'endanger... further amelioration of bilateral ties between Croatian and Serbia'.
'It was not a good time to make it,' Uzelac said, adding he would respect his party's decision on whether to withdraw from the Sanader government.
Speaking to reporters after Croatia announced it was to recognise Kosovo jointly with Bulgaria and Hungary, Sanader said his government would only move to establish diplomatic ties with Pristina after it reviews the new state's draft constitution.
But he added he does not expect this to have any negative consequences for further development of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade.
Thirty-two countries now recognise Kosovo's independence, which the Serbian province's ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament unilaterally declared on Feb 17. tf.TFN-Europe_newsdesk@thomson.com hjp/cmr COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Financial News Limited 2008. All rights reserved. The copying, republication or redistribution of Thomson Financial News Content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Financial News.
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