(Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a Serbian Orthodox church in Kosovo, urging ethnic Serbs who have left the country to return and help shape the life of Europe's youngest nation.
"The United States is firmly committed to Kosovo's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to seeing the rule of law extend throughout Kosovo," Clinton told reporters. "We oppose any discussion of territory changes or reopening Kosovo's independent status. These matters are not up for discussion. The boundaries of an independent, sovereign Kosovo are clear and set."
Kosovo, which was declared an independent state separate from Serbia in 2008, is still facing many challenges as it is growing as a country. The U.S. is hoping that Kosovo will become a member of the international military organization NATO and help bring stability to the Balkan region, but the young country faces many hurdles.
Clinton is said to have greeted minority Serbians at the St. Nicholas Church in Kosovo's capital, welcoming them back to the country and urging them to stay and fight for a better future. There she is said to have also met the second-highest ranking Serbian Orthodox official in Kosovo, a local parish priest and two ethnic Serb ministers in Kosovo's government.
Many Serbs still reject the new government's authority, and some want to be incorporated back into Serbia. While issues such as freedom of movement are being negotiated between Serbia and Kosovo, concerned Serbians will likely have to stay put until terms are agreed.
Clinton warned that Kosovo's people, who mostly belong to the Christian Orthodox Church, will need to embrace changes if they are to move forward as a nation and sustain peaceful relations in the region. The Washington Post noted that Clinton's husband, Bill Clinton, was instrumental in stopping the war between Serbia and Kosovo in the 90s when he was president.
The U.S. Secretary warned that patience is needed as Kosovo's new environment emerges, so that "people of all backgrounds have a chance to succeed," The Associated Press reported. She added that ethnic Serbs need to embrace their new country, as the government will need the people's support in order to thrive and build.
Although more than 90 countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia's leaders have said that they will continue battling that claim and will never accept the region as independent.
The St. Nicholas Church, which was burned down in riots in 2004 but was rebuilt, stands as a symbol of the government's commitment to a new inclusiveness – but whether Serbians will eventually move toward accepting their part in the new state remains to be seen.