Kosovo marks anniversary of independence amid Serbian opposition

Other News Materials 17 February 2009 15:09 (UTC +04:00)

Kosovo Albanians were set to celebrate the first year of independence Tuesday, while minority Serbs and Belgrade leaders vowed to continue challenging the secession,



Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu were scheduled to address the parliament in Pristina at a solemn session, before paying respect to prominent politicians and rebels who launched the fight against Serbian authority in the 1990s.

Kosovo Serb deputies said they would boycott the session.

In fact, Serb leaders were due to convene the informal body representing their enclaves in Kosovo and again denounce the secession from Serbia.

In a move which the authorities in Pristina condemned as a provocation, the Kosovo Serbs were to be joined by parliamentarians traveling from Belgrade.

It was unclear mid-morning how many of the 250 deputies from Belgrade intended to join the meeting in Zvecan, a town in the largest Serb enclave in northern Kosovo, but it appears that it would be many fewer than expected earlier.

The former province, which Serbia continues to consider as the cradle of its statehood, is dominated by a 90-per cent Albanian majority.

The Albanians launched an armed rebellion against Serbs in the late 1990s, giving up peaceful resistance to oppression by Serbian authorities.

Serbian security forces, then under the command of strongman Slobodan Milosevic, responded with a heavy hand a decade ago, flattening entire villages and causing a massive exodus of the population to the neighbouring Albania and Macedonia.

NATO finally launched an aerial attack on the rump Yugoslavia in March that year, ousting Serbian forces after 78 days of heavy bombing and paving the way for a United Nations protectorate.

Since then, all efforts to negotiate a solution between Belgrade and Pristina failed miserably.

Kosovo declared independence a year ago Tuesday and was recognized by 54 nations so far, including United States and 22 out of the 27 EU countries, but remained without a seat in the United Nations owing to opposition from Serbia's superpower ally Russia.

A year on, Kosovo is effectively partitioned along ethnic lines, with the Serbs thoroughly dominating the northern one-quarter of the territory and refusing to accept central rule.

The situation is complicated by Russia's blockade in the UN, which prevented the pullout of the old administration and its full replacement by an EU law-enforcing mission - so far, both missions continue to operate in the field.

On its part, Serbia endorses the resistance of its compatriots in Kosovo and financially backs them. Officials frequently repeat that they will never recognize what they describe as the "false state Kosovo."