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18 Feb, 2008 09:22

`False state` Kosovo declares independence

Kosovo has officially declared independence from Serbia. Belgrade has condemned the separation, saying Kosovo is a `false state`. Russia has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and says it fully supports Serbia`s demand to restore i

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told parliament that it's a historic day for the tiny province.

“We, the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state,” he said.

He said it's been “a long path to arrive at the point when a dream comes true” and the future state would be “proud, independent and free”.

Hashim Thaci tried to calm fears of the minority Serb population by vowing to guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens.

“Our constitution outlines that Kosovo is a state for all its citizens. There’s no room for intimidation, discrimination or unequal treatment of anyone,” he said.

The celebrations are underway on the streets of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, with tens of thousands of Kosovars dancing, waving Albanian and American flags and setting off fireworks.

Protests in Belgrade

Serbia has promised to use all peaceful means within its power to restore its territorial integrity.

Serbia’s President Boris Tadic is in New York for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by Russia.

“Serbia will take certain measures and do everything in its power to annul this illegal declaration of Kosovan independence. Serbia will never recognise the independence of Kosovo. Serbia has always reacted, and will react, always with calm, diplomatic, legal means in order to annul this act,” Tadic said.

In an emotional address to the nation, Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica reiterated that the breakaway province has created “a fake state” while the U.S. had humiliated and forced the EU to discard its principles.

“This unprecedented illegal act has been caused by the brutal and immoral policies conceived and executed by the United States. The whole world can now see that the U.S. places the use of force above the rule of law. The President of the United States is responsible for this violence, together with his European followers, and this will be a black mark in Serbian history,” Kostunica said.

Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia's Radical Party says the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo will have a drastic impact not only on Serbia, but the whole world.

“The world will soon plunge into a deep crisis, because the U.S. have positioned themselves higher than the UN. The U.S. have bluntly violated international law. Maybe they wanted to prove to the Islamic world that that they are not their absolute enemies. Maybe that's why they're trying to create an Islamic state inside Europe. They have deeply insulted feelings of Serbs who could never imagine that someone would encroach upon their territory,” Nikolic added.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic says Serbia will continue fighting for Kosovo with all methods available for a democratic state. He is sure that Serbs who stay in the breakaway region won't recognise the independent Kosovo.

To listen to Jeremic, commenting on the situation, please follow the link.

Borislav Milosevic, brother of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, says the countries which support Kosovo's independence apply double standards.

“They want to recognise Kosovo, but I don't think they will recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The supporters of independence say Kosovo is not a precedent, but rather a unique case. But they said in the past that the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was a unique case, that's why they had to go beyond the NATO scope of responsibility. But then Afghanistan and Iraq followed. It is important to prevent lawlessness, we have to preserve international order,” Borislav Milosevic said.

Rallies have been held outside the U.S. embassy in Belgrade in protest against America’s backing Kosovo independence while hand grenades have been thrown at buildings of the EU and the UN in the Kosovan city of Mitrovica, which is mainly populated by Serbs.

The protest was staged despite repeated warnings from top Serbian officials urging people to remain calm.

Concerns of Kosovo's Serb minority

After the centuries of conflict, Serbs and Albanians living in Kosovo see its future differently, and the Serbs are in despair after the declaration of independence.

“Most Serbs will flee Kosovo. Only those who don't have relatives in central Serbia or old people, who can't move – will stay here. This is a terrible, unbelievable situation,” Vidoslav Cukaric, a director of one of the local schools, says.

The Serbs fear the new status of the troubled region will bring another wave of violence to Kosovo, and that ethnic Albanian extremists will try to drive the Serbs out.

Many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, however, say the Serbs have no reason to worry about their safety. Imam Shani Sulta, from the town of Orahovac, says the suffering of the late 1990s will never return.

“I have been serving here for 16 years. The years 1998 and 1999 were awful. It was very dangerous here during and after the war – there was fighting everywhere. Now it's OK – and we live side by side with other nations,” Shani Sulta said.

In the meantime, the Serbian minority in Kosovo doesn't share the Imam's optimism.

Kosovo is home to more than 1,300 Serbian religious sites. The monks say they will never leave their holy land – despite possible attacks on them. Their future remains uncertain – and it is only one of the consequences of tearing Kosovo away from Serbia.

Russia calls UN Security Council session

Russia has called for an emergency full meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday.

The country's Foreign Ministry calls Kosovo's declaration of independence an illegal act that violates all previous agreements, including United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.

In a statement issued by the ministry it is also said that Russia fully supports the protests of the Serbian authorities and demands the soonest restoration of the integrity of the state.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin says there is no dispute in the UN Security Council about the fact that resolution 1244 remains in force.

“We’ve supported the request of the Serb delegation to have a formal open meeting of the Council tomorrow and we are very glad that this request has been accepted and we’re looking forward to the participation in this meeting of the Serbia’s president Tadic tomorrow. I think today we’ve had some important results. One thing is clear and in fact there is no dispute in the Security Council about that – resolution 1244 remains in force and the UN presence in Kosovo remains in force.

The Secretary General told us among other things that the head of UNMIK will continue to maintain his overall authority. We’ve been told that even in today’s declaration in Pristina they’ve mentioned that 1244 remains in force. If this is the case, then it is not obvious at all what could possibly be the legal basis for even considering the recognition of this unilateral declaration of independence. So our position is that this declaration should be disregarded by the international community and should be declared null and void by the head of the UNMIK mission there,” Churkin said.

International reaction

“Everything that we, the United Kingdom, and our European Union partners do will be in conformity with 1244. But there is nothing in 1244 that rules out a recognition of an independent Kosovo. The provision in 1244 that the territorial integrity of the former Republic of Yugoslavia should be respected applied to the interim period, which is now come to an end,” John Sawers, UK Ambassador to the UN, said.

The EU and NATO have agreed to work to take on the responsibility of ensuring stability in Kosovo – this statement comes following a closed meeting of UN ambassadors in New York.

“We regret the failure to secure a mutually agreed solution but the status quo had become unsustainable and a co-ordinated and stable process, with international support better than prolonged instability,” Johan Verbeke, Belgian Ambassador to the UN, said.

Meanwhile, analysts say Kosovo's independence could be a catalyst leading other disputed regions to proclaim their sovereignty.

Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have claimed they'll ask Russia, other CIS countries and the United Nations to recognise their independence.

EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana has said the stability in Kosovo and in the whole Balkan region is essential and has urged everybody to act calmly and in a responsible way.

The U.S., Germany and France have simply said they recognise the declaration and are considering their response.

U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, has praised Kosovo's move, calling it an historic event.

But there are also those who share Russia's stance on the issue. China has expressed serious concern over the self-proclamation, saying the move could undermine stability in the Balkans. Beijing has asked Pristina and Belgrade to reopen dialogue to find a peaceful solution.

The news has been met with mixed reaction among Serbs and Albanians living abroad.

“Today it might launch a new round of fragmentation in the region because if Kosovo can claim independence, why not western Macedonia, or Republic Srpska, or Herzegovina-Bosnia or Abkhazia, Ossetia? All around the world there are about 3,600 communities that are, all are I'm sure, this afternoon watching what is going to happen because it might set a precedent for similar movements all around,” Predrag Simić, Serbia’s Ambassador to France said.

“Finally we have our own country, our own language, our own schools – everything is our own now. This means very much to us, really a lot. Finally my child can go home as a free person, with her own passport. She was born here, goes to school here, speaks German, has a German mother and an Albanian father,” saidBejram Freitag, a member of Germany’s Kosovo Albanian community.