A mass rally in Belgrade against Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence turned violent when Serbian nationalists broke into the US embassy and set fire to the building (Story: O. Fairclough).
The United States said it was urging the Serbs to take the appropriate steps to protect the US embassy in Belgrade which was set on fire Thursday by mobs opposed to Kosovo's independence.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also told reporters that officials in Washington were involved in a flurry of contacts over security issues and were briefing a traveling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Rice was flying back to the United States from an Africa tour with President George W. Bush.
"We have an open line with our RSO (Regional Security Office for the Balkans) and the security people who are at the chancery in Belgrade," McCormack said.
"And we are in contact with the Serbian government to ensure that they devote the appropriate assets to fulfill their international obligations to help protect diplomatic facilities, in this case our embassy," McCormack said.
"They have been up until this point very good in providing police assets to ensure that the embassy facility was protected," Rice's spokesman said.
"We want to strongly urge them and we are in contact with them to make sure that they devote the assets to deal with this situation," he said.
Asked whether there were signs Serb security forces were slow to intervene because of popular anger over Washington's strong support for Kosovo's independence, he replied: "I have no indication that that is the case."
Though pointing out events were still unfolding as he spoke, McCormack said there were a "number of Serbian citizens who are on part of the embassy compound, in the consular building area," which is separate from the chancery.
The siege appeared to have begun after the embassy closed for the day, he said.
"The embassy staff is not at the chancery or at the embassy. The only people that we have right now at the embassy are the security people and the Marine guards. So they're there at the chancery," he added.
The US ambassador, who was at his residence, was in contact with Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who in turn briefed Rice, he added.
Date created : 2008-02-21