UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kosovo's foreign minister said Monday that other nations have exported violent extremism to his country, which has seen a greater percentage of its citizens fight for the Islamic State group than any other nation in Europe.
Authorities say that about 70 citizens of Muslim-majority Kosovo are believed to be active fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Enver Hoxhaj told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that "radicalization of young people in the Balkans has been exported from different NGOs and clerics" from the Mideast.
He added "we can't blame foreign governments" for the spread of radicalization in the Balkans because "we don't have evidence for that."
Last year the government passed a law that could see Kosovo citizens who participate in armed conflicts outside Kosovo being sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Kosovo government also said earlier this year that draft measures against terror funding and money laundering have been given the go-ahead to be put to Parliament for approval.
"We are very proud that since last September nobody from Kosovo left the country and joined Daesh," Hoxhaj said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
A NATO bombing campaign in 1999 stopped Serbia's crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists, ending Belgrade's rule over Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Kosovo's independence has been recognized by more than a hundred countries, including the U.S. and major European Union nations. But it is rejected by Serbia, with support from Russia, which has blocked Kosovo from becoming a U.N. member.
Last year, Kosovo's bid to become a member of the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO was narrowly defeated in a victory for Serbia and Russia and a blow to Kosovo's mission for global recognition as a state.
Hoxhaj expressed confidence that "the next time whenever we apply, we will have enough votes" to become a UNESCO member, which will help the country on its "unstoppable course" toward full international recognition.