Independence Is Proclaimed By Kosovo

Poor and mostly Muslim but feverishly pro-Western, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. U.S. President George Bush hailed the newly independent Kosovo and officially recognized it as a state and a "close friend" on Monday.

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 18, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo, Feb. 17 -- A new state emerged from the long and bloody unraveling of Yugoslavia when the Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence on Sunday. Its ethnic Albanian leaders promised to embrace Kosovo's embittered Serb minority and forge a multiethnic, democratic nation.

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in an address to parliament.

The move was immediately condemned by Serbia and its ally Russia. But the United States is expected to quickly recognize the new state, as is most of the European Union, in return for an agreement by Kosovo's leaders to submit to European Union supervision.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his country, which regards Kosovo as the cradle of its civilization and home to some of its most treasured Orthodox churches and monasteries, would never recognize the unilateral declaration.

"For as long as the Serbian nation exists, Kosovo will remain Serbia," Kostunica said in a nationally televised address from Belgrade, Serbia's capital. "We do not recognize the forced creation of a state within our territory."

Russia appears determined to prevent Kosovo from obtaining U.N. membership and took part in a closed-door emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on Sunday. "We expect the U.N. Mission in Kosovo and NATO-led Kosovo Force to take immediate action to fulfill their mandates . . . including voiding the decisions of the Pristina local government and adopting severe administrative measures against them," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Russia also says that recognition of the province's independence could spark violent separatism elsewhere in the world, including in the Caucasus, where several conflicts simmer. Some European Union countries, including Spain, have expressed similar concerns.

Russian-backed separatist leaders of two enclaves in Georgia -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- released statements Sunday saying that they would soon seek recognition of their independence, citing Kosovo as a precedent.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, when the NATO military alliance bombed Yugoslavia to force then-President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from the province of 2 million. Milosevic's government was accused of waging a vicious campaign, including ethnic cleansing, to suppress an insurgency led by Thaci.

But the NATO troops that moved into Kosovo after 78 days of airstrikes have since become guards around sealed Serb enclaves, home to 120,000 people. At a Serb monastery in Pec, called Peja by ethnic Albanians, Italian troops protect the holy site, which is surrounded by a massive new wall to shield elderly nuns from stone-throwing and other abuse by passing ethnic Albanians.

"We don't have eye contact with them anymore, so things are better," said one Serb woman at the church, who declined to give her name.

Thaci, other leaders and the local media have urged their compatriots to celebrate independence "with dignity" and to avoid inflaming the Serb population.


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