One year on, Kosovo hails 'historic birthday'

17th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Since breaking away from Serbia last year, Kosovo has been recognized by 54 mainly Western countries, and adopted the trappings of full statehood including an anthem, constitution, flag, security force and even an intelligence agency.

Pristina -- Kosovo marked the first anniversary of its declaration of independence Tuesday with a special session of parliament and street parties tempered by fears of unrest amid nationalist Serb opposition.

"Today is a birthday for all of us," Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told the same parliament that, on February 17, 2008, unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia for the predominantly ethnic Albanian province. "We are today marking the biggest and most important holiday of the people of Kosovo. The year we are leaving behind is a year of successes and pride, the year of historic success of our country."

Since breaking away from Serbia, Kosovo has been recognized by 54 mainly Western countries, and adopted the trappings of full statehood including an anthem, constitution, flag, security force and even an intelligence agency.

Thaci, a former leader of the political wing of the ethnic Albanian separatist rebels who fought Serb forces in 1998 and 1999, said Kosovo had completed the building-up of its national institutions.

And while it has yet to be admitted to any world bodies, he predicted it would receive more international recognition including membership in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank later this year.

In his address to parliament, President Fatmir Sejdiu hit out at Serbia's opposition to Kosovo's independence.

"Not only does Serbia still not recognize the reality, but continues to fight it with interference and the tendency to destabilize us, especially in certain parts of Kosovo as in the north," he said.

The government in Pristina is planning modest festivities, including the special session of parliament, street parties and an evening concert for dignitaries followed by a fireworks display.

But in defiance of the celebrations, Serbian lawmakers traveled by bus from Belgrade to the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan, which is controlled by Serbs, to attend a session of a rival Kosovo Serb parliament.

Serbs in Kosovo mostly live in the north, clinging to a few municipalities close to the Serbian border and the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, the scene of the worst violence in Kosovo during the past year.

"We appeal to citizens for a decent, solemn and of course peaceful celebration," Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Rame Manaj said, adding security measures were in place in case of any unrest.

Kosovo's declaration of independence marked the final chapter in the violent breakup of the former communist Yugoslavia.

Wrested from Belgrade's control by a NATO air war against then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's autocratic regime, Kosovo was under UN administration from 1999 until 2008.

Today it is recognized by the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan and all but five of the 27 EU member states. But Serbia -- supported by China, India and Russia -- rejects its independence, calling it illegitimate.

Serbia contends that Kosovo's declaration of independence was illegal under international law. In September, it won UN General Assembly backing to challenge Kosovo's action before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

In an interview with AFP, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Monday that Kosovo was far from independent, and that it was wracked by organized crime and human rights abuses.

Ismet Hajdari/AFP/Expatica

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