Kosovar Serbs Get First Aid Shipment

APA Russian plane crew waiting for aid to be unloaded Wednesday in Belgrade.
BELGRADE, Serbia -- The first shipment of Russian aid for the Serb minority in Kosovo arrived Wednesday in Belgrade, in a demonstration of Moscow's support for Serbia in the dispute with the West over Kosovo.

"This is a big day for us," Serbia's government minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said as he received the aid at the Belgrade airport.

"This is huge help, it presents both material and moral support," he said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged that Moscow would not allow Kosovo -- which declared independence from Serbia in February with Western backing -- to become a member of the United Nations.

Speaking Wednesday at the State Duma, Lavrov expressed support for the Kosovar Serbs' rejection of Kosovo's independence, saying they "have the right to decide whom to live with."

The Russian aid was shipped in an Il-76 cargo plane. It included 40 tons of canned food, baby food, rice and sugar. Samardzic said three more shipments including more food and medical aid were expected by April 10. "This is important help for the survival of Serbs in Kosovo," Samardzic said.

No details have been given about how the aid would be distributed among the 100,000 or so Serbs living in Kosovo.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the aid at Serbia's request. He said the aid should be distributed regardless of ethnicity and "without political coloring."

But Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders objected, saying Moscow should coordinate shipments with Pristina rather than Belgrade.

Kosovo's Feb. 17 declaration of independence was quickly recognized by the United States and its European allies.

But Serbia and Russia have rejected Kosovo's statehood. Belgrade has sought in recent weeks to retain control over Serb-held areas in Kosovo, which could lead to a division of the territory.