Lack of Serbian security at embassy "intolerable," US says

Other News Materials 22 February 2008 03:26 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - A top US diplomat telephoned Serbian leaders on Thursday to warn that Washington would hold them "personally responsible" if protestors harmed Americans during an assault on the US embassy in Belgrade, the State Department said.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns expressed the US position during a conversation with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"The message was very clear: that the situation was intolerable, that they needed to act immediately to provide the adequate security forces so that our embassy compound and our personnel were not under attack," McCormack said.

"He made it very clear to the foreign minister that we would hold the Serbian government personally responsible for the safety and well being of our embassy employees," McCormack added.

The rioters attacked the embassy to protest the decision by the United States to quickly recognize Kosovo after it declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, lighting it on fire and burning a US flag outside the building.

"The bottom line is that there weren't adequate security forces there," McCormack said of Serbia's obligation under international law to protect embassies. "I can't tell you whether that was a matter of numbers or will or capability."

McCormack said all American staff members at the embassy were accounted for and safe. He could not say whether a burned body found inside the embassy was a local employee or protestor.

The decision to close the embassy early on Thursday in anticipation of widespread demonstrations helped ensure no Americans, aside from security personnel, were not present when the protestors assaulted the embassy.

McCormack said it took about two hours for adequate Serbian forces to secure the perimeter of the embassy after the rioting broke out. He said the United States received assurances from Kostunica that a similar event will not take place in the future.

"We received assurances from the prime minister that there will not be a repeat of this episode and we will hold them to that," McCormack said.

McCormack said the protestors were mainly in the reception of the embassy and were unable to breach secure areas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was returning to Washington with President George W Bush after a trip to Africa when she ordered Burns to call Kostunica and Jeremic, McCormack said.