(dpa) - Kosovo's leaders on Monday signed the new nation's constitution, saying it bolsters the legitimacy of their break with Serbia while protecting minority rights for Serbs.
More than 30 countries have recognized Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence, and the former Serb province's leaders have been intent on locking in the symbols of statehood.
"This is a fundamental act for Kosovo," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said at the ceremony in the capital Pristina.
"Today we are giving legitimacy to our act of declaration of the independent, sovereign and democratic Republic of Kosovo," he said.
The constitution of Europe's newest nation takes effect June 15. Modelled partly on the US constitution, it offers guarantees for Serb residents in a country with an overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority.
Kosovo is "a state of free citizens that will guarantee the rights of every citizen, civil freedoms and equality of all citizens before the law," the preamble says.
Remaining Kosovo Serbs fear for their rights in Kosovo - a concern heightened last week when former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj was acquitted of charges that he committed war crimes against Serbs.
A former rebel commander turned politician, Haradinaj fought Serb forces in the 1998-99 fighting that led to a brutal Serb response against Kosovo civilians and the NATO air war that broke Serbia's hold on Kosovo.
The constitution says that Kosovo "will contribute to the stability of the region and entire Europe by creating good neighbourly relations with all neighbouring countries."
Kosovars are "determined to build a future of Kosovo as a free, democratic and peace-loving country which will be a home for all its citizens," the document reads.
The European Union's envoy for Kosovo, Peter Feith, congratulated the committee of Kosovo lawmakers who drafted the constitution.
"Kosovo will have a modern constitution," he said at the ceremony.
Feith's prior approval was required to ensure that the text was in line with Finnish diplomat Martti Ahtisaari's proposal of internationally supervised independence for Kosovo. He approved it last week.
After the signing, the new constitution was presented to President Fatmir Sejdiu, who said it would "pave a way for long awaited process of Euro-Atlantic integration."
"Today we've made an important step in our sovereignty by drafting our modern constitution," he said. "Today we have proved to the democratic world our seriousness."