Hero's welcome for Biden in Kosovo
May 21, 2009 10:27pm
"Your independence is irreversible," he said in a speech that received several standing ovations from the ethnic Albanian-dominated assembly.
"The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration and our country."
Cheered on by a huge crowd, Mr Biden's motorcade had made its way towards the parliament along streets lined by billboards declaring: "Welcome and thank you."
The US vice president is considered one of Washington's strongest advocates of the independence of ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo, which declared its secession from Serbia in February last year.
Coming after trips to Bosnia and Serbia, Mr Biden's visit to Kosovo is his final stop on a tour to demonstrate fresh US engagement in Europe and the volatile Balkan region
"Thank you... for honouring me with this medal... I don't deserve it, but I received it on behalf of the United States," Mr Biden said.
Local media hailed the visit of Biden, one of the strongest supporters of Kosovo's independence when he served as a senator in the late 1990s.
"Mr Biden is one of the few politicians in the world that has long believed in the independence of Kosovo. For his contribution to changing our destiny, Biden is our man," the Express daily said in a commentary.
Kosovo's decision to split from Serbia on February 17, 2008 is strongly opposed by Belgrade and Serbs, who number little more than 100,000 in the disputed territory of two million inhabitants.
Following his speech, Mr Biden was flown by helicopter to the Serbian Orthodox Church's Decani monastery, a 14th-century UNESCO-listed heritage site located in an enclave of southwestern Kosovo.
The Serb minority, who consider Kosovo the medieval heartland of Serbia, plan to stage an anti-US protest in their northern stronghold of the tense, ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica.
In Belgrade, Biden offered Serbia's pro-Western government a clean slate in relations tarnished by the Kosovo dispute, saying Washington does not expect Serbia to recognise its breakaway southern province.
"The United States does not, I emphasise, does not expect Serbia to recognise the independence of Kosovo," Mr Biden told a joint media conference with Serbian President Boris Tadic.
In Bosnia a day earlier, however, he stressed Washington's decision to recognise Kosovo would not be reviewed by the four-month-old administration of US President Barack Obama.
"This independence, while young, is irreversible, and critically important to this region's stability and progress," he said in a speech to Bosnian lawmakers.
US warplanes took part in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia to end a violent crackdown on separatist Kosovo Albanian rebels by forces loyal to late president Slobodan Milosevic.