Kosovo is marking the first anniversary of its declaration of independence on Tuesday, amid mounting tension as Serb politicians reassert Belgrade\’s sovereignty over the territory.
“We appeal to citizens for a decent, solemn and of course peaceful celebration,” said Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Rame Manaj ahead of a day of modest festivities marking the Western-backed break from Serbia.
“The Kosovo government and the institutions of Kosovo have undertaken all the necessary measures for security of all celebrations which concerns marking the first anniversary of independence.”
In defiance of celebrations in Pristina, Serbian politicians have travelled by bus from Belgrade to the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan, which is controlled by Serbs, to attend a session of a rival Kosovo Serb parliament.
Manaj warned: “Every eventual provocation which can happen around Kosovo – I think about the northern part, in particular – will face reaction of the police of Kosovo.”
Kosovo\’s ethnic Albanian-dominated parliament in Pristina declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, marking the final chapter in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.
Street parties, fireworks
Kosovo had been under UN administration since 1999 when, as a province of Serbia where ethnic Albanian guerrillas battled Serb security forces, it was wrested from Belgrade\’s control by a NATO air war.
Kosovo today is recognised by 54 nations including the United States, Japan and all but five of the 27 EU member states.
But Serbia – supported by China, India and Russia – rejects its independence, calling it illegitimate.
Last October, Serbia won UN General Assembly backing to challenge the legality of Kosovo\’s declaration of independence before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Torn between joy at breaking away from Serbia and the harsh realities of building a viable landlocked state in the Balkans, the government in Pristina has organised a relatively low-cost anniversary.
Planned festivities include a special morning session of parliament, street parties, and an evening concert for dignitaries followed by a large fireworks display outdoors.
In London, Britain said Kosovo had made “huge progress” in the past year, but reassured Belgrade that it recognises its interest in the welfare of Serbs who represent about 10 per cent of Kosovo\’s population of two million.
Obama\’s words of support
Foreign Secretary David Miliband went on to urge Pristina to “redouble its efforts to win the confidence of all communities,” as he expressed support to the ambitions of both Serbia and Kosovo to join the European Union.
Words of support also came from the new US president Barack Obama, in a letter to Kosovo\’s president Fatmir Sejdiu.
“The United States will continue to support multi-ethnic, independent and democratic Kosovo in its efforts to take a meritorious place as a full member of the community of the states,” Obama wrote, according to Sejdiu\’s office.
But Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Monday that Kosovo was far from independent, and that it was wracked by organised crime and human rights abuses.
“A year later, it\’s clear to everyone who wants to see the real situation in Kosovo that it\’s not a state,” Tadic said.
Serbs in Kosovo mostly live in the north, clinging to a few municipalities close to the Serbian border and the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, the scene of the worst violence in Kosovo during the past year.