The move came after two days of violence by ethnic Serbs, protesting against the declaration of independence, in the divided northern city of Mitrovica.

UN police redeployed

On Wednesday, UN police were redeployed in the north of the city. They had withdrawn after a Ukrainian officer was killed and more than 150 people injured in Monday's rioting.

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Nato-led Kosovo Force peacekeepers had been patrolling the streets in the UN's absence.

David McLean, the regional police commander in Mitrovica, said the UN police were returning "gradually" and setting up their operation and patrols.

He said he expected to restore the mission "as quickly as possible".

Alexander Ivanko, spokesman for the UN mission that has administered Kosovo since Nato bombing drove out Serbian forces in 1999, blamed Serbian officials for the violence that folowed the seizure of UN court buildings by demonstrators.

"I can tell you that we have rock solid proof that there were officials of the [Serbian] ministry of interior present at the court house," he said.

'Illegal state'
 
Vuk Jeremic, Serbia's foreign minister, reacted coldly the decision by  Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria to recognise Kosovo.

"Every country that makes this move cannot count on good relations with us," he said during a trip to Athens. "Every country that recognises the illegal state of Kosovo violates international law."

"Every country that recognises the illegal state of Kosovo violates international law"

Vuk Jeremic, Serbia's foreign minister
Croatia's recognition, the second by a former Yugoslav republic after Slovenia, is expected to be the most sensitive, as it threatens to harm delicate post-war ties between the two neighbours.
  
Ahead of the announcement, Boris Tadic, Serbia's president, warned Croatia against the move, saying it would have an "immediate impact on our bilateral ties".

Slobodan Uzelac, Croatia's deputy prime minister who represents the country's Serb minority, handed in his resignation in protest at Zagreb's decision, according to Ivo Sanader, the prime minister.

A statement from the Serbian foreign ministry said that Radivoj Cveticanin in Croatia and Predrag Cudic in Hungary should leave their host countries in the next 48 hours and return to Belgrade "for consultations".

Serbia has recalled ambassadors from all the countries that have recognised Kosovo, as a part of the government's "action plan" prepared to oppose the declaration of independence.