U.S. and EU Pledge More Than $1 Billion at Kosovo Donors' Conference

International donors on Friday pledged more than half of the $2.36 billion in aid requested by Kosovo to build up its infrastructure and democratic institutions.

The European Union's executive commission pledged $785 million and the United States about $400 million for 2009-11 to help strengthen Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in February.

Other European nations and donors were to announce pledges later Friday at an international donors' conference in Brusssels.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci promised to use the funds wisely, curb corruption and promote democratic institutions to ensure that rights of Kosovo's Serb minority, which opposed independence, are respected.

"We will not let you down, Kosovo is a new country of new opportunities," Thaci told the conference. "The success of Kosovo means ... peace and stability in the region."

Olli Rehn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, said the new aid would help Kosovo to attract long-term investment for its struggling economy.

"The Kosovo authorities are aware that they need to build up the capacity to manage projects better," Rehn said.

Thaci said his government planned to use the aid money for infrastructure projects including new electricity plants to boost economic growth.

Kosovo is one of the poorest in Europe, with an unemployment rate of 40 percent and stagnant growth, the EU says.

A joint EU-World Bank report said the lack of a stable energy power supply had affected growth and job creation. It said poor transportation and telecommunications links and the country's unresolved political status are also obstacles to doing business.

The report said around 45 percent of the population is estimated to be poor, including 15 percent in extreme poverty. Enrollment in secondary education is low and Kosovo and has one of the worst records in the Balkans for life expectancy, tuberculosis and access to safe drinking water, the report said.

Serbia, with strong Russian backing, remains vehemently opposed to Kosovo's split from Belgrade. The two countries have vowed to block Kosovo from joining international institutions like the United Nations and other grant-awarding bodies.

Thaci said he still hoped his country could soon join the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and work toward eventual membership in the EU and NATO.

Since Kosovo broke with Serbia, 42 nations have recognized its independence, including the U.S. and 20 of the 27 EU members.