UNESCO begins divisive debate on whether to admit Kosovo as member state

UNESCO's General Conference has begun debating whether to admit Kosovo as a member in the U.N. cultural agency in a heated vote that's dividing countries along old battle lines.

Kosovo has been recognized by 111 countries since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Russia, Serbia's close ally, has blocked Kosovo from becoming a full U.N. member.

To win UNESCO membership, Kosovo must get at least two-thirds of all votes cast after Monday's debate, excluding abstentions.

Kosovo has promised to protect cultural heritage of Serbs. But Serbia has warned that allowing Kosovo into UNESCO would fuel tensions and hurt a U.N.-brokered dialogue aimed at normalizing ties between the former war foes.

The U.S. delegation supports Kosovo's bid but no longer has voting rights in UNESCO over a funding flap.