Kosovo set to split from Serbia

Other News Materials 17 February 2008 14:10 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa )- Kosovo was set to proclaim independence from Serbia on Sunday, in a move rejected by the minority Serbs and Belgrade.

President Fatmir Sejdiu confirmed Sunday that the declaration of independence was to be made during an emergency parliament session later in the day.

"We will bow to the wishes of the Albanian people today and declare independence," Sejdiu said during a visit to the grave of his predecessor and independence icon, Ibrahim Rugova.

The two-time president and leader of the Albanian's non-violent resistance movement in Kosovo in the 1990s, died two years ago.

The declaration of independence was expected at an emergency session of parliament called for later in the day, with the formal announcement tentatively scheduled for 5 pm (1600 GMT).

While Albanians, a 90-per-cent majority in Kosovo, started celebrating already Saturday night, the Serbs, who make up less than 10 per cent of the population in Kosovo, remained calm even if wary.

Their spiritual leader, the Orthodox Bishop Artemije, dismissed the imminent declaration of independence, but denounced violence.

"We are not calling anybody to a war," Artemije said after a prayer in the Serb enclave Gracanica, near the Kosovo capital Pristina. "Kosovo will always remain Serbian and we regard this so- called declaration as occupation."

Serbian Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic, on a visit to Gracanica, blasted the European Union over its support for Kosovo's independence.

"It is shame and disgrace what EU is doing, helping dismember Serbia," he said, referring to EU's upcoming law-implementation mission tasked with helping Kosovo's first sovereign steps.

Serbia has already suspended its already cumbersome approach to EU membership over the mission, which it has fought diplomatically as a step to Kosovo's independence, and Ilic signalled more of the same.

"We will never cooperate with the EU mission in Kosovo," he said.

Serbia on Thursday passed a resolution "annulling" the declaration of independence in advance. The document would come into effect with the declaration of independence by the Kosovo authorities.

It would be followed by still undisclosed diplomatic, political and economic measures against Kosovo, but also against the countries that recognize it - meaning the United States and almost all EU member-states.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica would adress the nation at 4 pm, an hour ahead of the scheduled declaration by Pristina.

While Western powers back Kosovo's independence, Russia supports Serbia and blocked Pristina's independence bid in the United Nations in 2007.