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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 February 2008, 13:30 GMT
Balkans anxious at Kosovan move
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News

Free drinks near parliament in Pristina
Free drinks in Pristina but how will Kosovo's neighbours react?

People in the Balkans are watching nervously to see how the independence of Kosovo will play in the rest of the region.

Once again, the Balkans are entering uncharted waters.

While Slovenia and Albania are expected to be among the first countries to recognise Kosovo, others like Macedonia and Bosnia are hesitating due to their own painful experience with ethnic separatism.

Those who support Kosovo's independence say it will close the last chapter in the break up of Yugoslavia.

Those who oppose it fear it will rekindle the embers of ethnic conflict at the heart of Europe.

Police in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb entity, have been put on alert, after some local Serb groups called for secession.

Clear message

But local politicians are more likely to use Kosovo as a way of strengthening their position within Bosnia rather than seek unification with Serbia.

Restive Albanian minorities in Serbia's southern Presevo valley and in Macedonia are also watching events in Kosovo closely.

But the message from the West is clear - "don't even think about it".

In 2001, the EU and Nato managed to prevent an all-out conflict in Macedonia between security forces and ethnic Albanians, who make up one-quarter of the population.

Now, hopes that the country may be invited to join both the EU and Nato this year seem to have taken over from dreams of a Greater Albania, which the president of Albania himself said should be relegated to history.

What's changed since the break-up of Yugoslavia is the clear prospect that all countries in the region can become members of the Western clubs, as Slovenia has already done, with Croatia soon to follow.

The big question is which way Serbia will decide to go, and much will depend on how Belgrade reacts to Kosovo's independence.

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