Constitution of Newly Independent Kosovo Takes Effect

Associated Press
Monday, June 16, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo, June 15 -- Kosovo's government took control of the newly independent nation Sunday as the country's constitution went into force after nine years of U.N. administration.

The charter, a milestone that comes four months after leaders declared independence from Serbia, gives the government sole decision-making authority.

But it threatens to worsen ethnic tensions between Kosovo's majority Albanians and Serb minority. Security in the divided northern town of Mitrovica was tight a day after a gunman attacked a police station, wounding one officer.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders marked the transition in a low-key ceremony in Pristina, the capital, that opened with Kosovo's newly approved, wordless anthem.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told local and international dignitaries the constitution comes after years of "hardship and sacrifice."

"Today the dream of the people of the Republic of Kosovo has come true," Thaci said.

Earlier, President Fatmir Sejdiu called it the most important act since Kosovo's declaration of independence in February.

However, Serbs -- who make up less than 5 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million -- strongly oppose the ethnic Albanian leadership's decision to declare independence from Serbia after U.N.-mediated talks fell through last year.

The United States, Japan, Britain and about 40 other countries have recognized Kosovo's move, but Serbia, its ally Russia and others have called the declaration illegal under international law.

"Serbia views Kosovo as its southern province," Serbian President Boris Tadic said Sunday. "It will defend its integrity by peaceful means, using diplomacy, without resorting to force."

Tadic said his government will insist on a new round of internationally mediated talks on Kosovo.

Backed by NATO troops, the United Nations had overseen the running of Kosovo since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign halted Serbia's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. An estimated 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died in the Serb crackdown.

Since then, Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs have struggled to bridge their differences. Most of Kosovo's 100,000 remaining Serbs live in the north in a region separated from ethnic Albanians by a river.

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