Kosovo Declares Independence From Serbia


Richard Moore


Kosovo Declares Independence From Serbia

Kosovar Albanians wave U.S. and Albanian flags on the Albanian side of the 
ethnically divi...

Sun Feb 17, 4:14 PM EST

Revelers fired guns in the air, waved red-and-black Albanian flags and set off 
fireworks in the skies over Kosovo Sunday after parliament proclaimed 
independence, defying Serbia and Russia which condemned the declaration of the 
world's newest nation.

A decade after a bloody separatist war with Serbian forces that claimed 10,000 
lives, lawmakers pronounced the territory the Republic of Kosovo and pledged to 
make it a "democratic, multiethnic state." Its leaders looked for swift 
recognition from the U.S. and key European powers ‹ but also braced for a bitter

Serbia called the declaration illegal and its ally Russia denounced it, saying 
it threatened to touch off a new conflict in the Balkans. Russia called for an 
emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, which met later on Sunday.

In the capital, Pristina, the mood was jubilant. Thousands of ethnic Albanians 
braved subfreezing temperatures to ride on the roofs of their cars, singing 
patriotic songs and chanting: "KLA! KLA!" the acronym for the now-disbanded 
rebel Kosovo Liberation Army. They waved American flags alongside the red 
Albanian banner imprinted with a black, double-headed eagle.

Many dressed in traditional costumes and played trumpets and drums, and an 
ethnic Albanian couple named their newborn daughter Pavarsie ‹ Albanian for 

"This is the happiest day in my life," said Mehdi Shehu, 68. "Now we're free and
we can celebrate without fear."

Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been 
administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former 
Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Ninety percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are ethnic Albanian ‹ most of them 
secular Muslims ‹ and they see no reason to stay joined to the rest of Christian
Orthodox Serbia.

The European Union and NATO, mindful of the Balkans' turbulent past, appealed 
for restraint and warned that the international community would not tolerate 

President Bush said the United States "will continue to work with our allies to 
the very best we can to make sure there's no violence."

"We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed 
its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo," Bush said 
while on a visit to Africa. "We also believe it's in Serbia's interest to be 
aligned with Europe and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in 

Underscoring fears of renewed unrest, an explosion lightly damaged a U.N. 
building housing a courthouse and a jail in Kosovo's tense north, home to most 
of its roughly 100,000 minority Serbs. No one was injured. An unexploded grenade
was found near a motel that houses EU officials.

In the ethnically divided northern city of Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbs vowed never
to let Kosovo go.

"The Albanians can celebrate all they want, but this stillborn baby of theirs 
will never be an independent country as long as we Serbs are here and alive," 
said Djordje Jovanovic.

Kosovo is still protected by 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, and the alliance 
boosted its patrols over the weekend in hopes of discouraging violence. 
International police, meanwhile, deployed to back up local forces in the tense 

Sunday's declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European 
powers, and Kosovo was counting on international recognition that could come as 
early as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Belgium.

But by sidestepping the U.N. and appealing directly to the U.S. and other 
nations for recognition, Kosovo's independence set up a showdown with Serbia ‹ 
outraged at the imminent loss of its territory ‹ and Russia, which warned that 
it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that independence without U.N. 
approval would set a dangerous precedent for "frozen conflicts" across the 
former Soviet Union, where separatists in Chechnya and Georgia are agitating for

Serbia's government ruled out a military response as part of a secret "action 
plan" drafted earlier this week, but warned that it would downgrade relations 
with any foreign government that recognizes Kosovo's independence.

Meanwhile, Serbia's government minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said 
Serbia would increase its presence in the roughly 15 percent of Kosovo that is 
Serb-controlled in an apparent attempt to partition the province.

Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu sought to allay Serbs' concerns, telling them: "I
understand today is a fearful day for you all, but your rights and your property
will be protected today as it will be always."

At a special session of parliament boycotted by 10 minority Serb lawmakers and 
televised live nationwide, sustained applause erupted after the rest of the 
chamber unanimously adopted the declaration of independence, which was scripted 
on parchment.

They also unveiled a new national crest and a flag: a bright blue banner 
featuring a golden map of Kosovo and six stars, one for each of its main ethnic 
groups. Few of the new flags were seen Sunday on Kosovo's streets, where the old
Albanian banner still dominated.

"We, the democratically elected leaders of our people, hereby declare Kosovo to 
be an independent and sovereign state," the proclamation read.

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," said Prime Minister
Hashim Thaci, a former KLA leader. "We never lost faith in the dream that one 
day we would stand among the free nations of the world, and today we do."

"Our hopes have never been higher," he said. "Dreams are infinite, our 
challenges loom large, but nothing can deter us from moving forward to the 
greatness that history has reserved for us."

Like Sejdiu, Thaci reached out to ordinary Serbs, but he had stern words for the
Serbian government.

"Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again," he warned.

Thaci also signed 192 separate letters to nations around the world ‹ including 
Serbia ‹ asking them to recognize Kosovo as a state.

Kosovo's leaders signed their names on a giant iron sculpture spelling out 
"NEWBORN" before heading to a sports hall for a performance of Beethoven's "Ode 
to Joy" by the Kosovo Philharmonic Orchestra.

International officials warned their staff to stay indoors and avoid "happy 
fire" as some revelers shot handguns into the air.

"I feel stronger," said Ymer Govori, 36, carrying his daughter on his shoulders 
to celebrations downtown. "I have my own state and my own post code," he said, 
"and it won't say Serbia any longer."


Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic in Kosovska Mitrovica contributed to 
this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

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