- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Prime Minister Hasim Thaci proclaimed the independent Republic of Kosova shortly after 3:30 this afternoon, thrilling a large crowd in the streets of this new capital but angering the government of Serbia, which still considers the land part of its sovereign territory.

The Kosovar parliament voted unanimously to approve the declaration as tens of thousands of people gathered outside in front of a large sign on the Hotel Pristina reading “Welcome to our new born nation.”

Amid a sea of Kosavar flags and fireworks, the red- and black-draped citizens milled around a giant cake baked for the occasion, meant to cater for 30,000 celebrants.

The proclamation’s use of the name Kosova, ending in the letter “A,” reflects the spelling in the Albanian language, though most of the world still is using the Serbian spelling Kosovo for what has for centuries been an integral part of Serbia.

Mr. Thaci, in his remarks, said he was “feeling the heartbeat of my ancestors” in Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority has been under NATO protection since the Serbian army and paramilitaries were routed from the province in 1999.

While it was an occasion for partying in Pristina, not everyone shared their enthusiasm.

Ten minutes after the session of parliament closed, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica addressed his country, bitterly attacking the United States and European powers for backing the secession.

Fears of violence were largely unfounded, apart from a grenade that exploded harmlessly near a U.N. courthouse in Serbian-dominated northern Kosovo. “We will leave the violence to the violators,” Mr. Kostunica said in Belgrade.

In a small Serbian enclave between Pristina’s city center and the airport, residents, who asked for anonymity, said they had not experienced any direct threats, but “we are afraid that in independent Kosovo, we will be second-class.”

The supervised independence, which is expected to be promptly recognized by the United States and European Union, grants Serbs in Kosovo extensive minority rights.

But Serbia is chafing at the loss of a province it regards as as a national heartland, where its medieval kings fought epic losing battles against Muslim Turkish invaders. Rumors abound that Belgrade will cut electricity supplies and even water in Kosovo, while shutting the new international border.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Serbia “shall never accept any violation of its territorial integrity,” and thousands protested the imminent loss of Kosovo in Saturday demonstrations in Belgrade.

Belgrade runs the show in the northern Kosovo Mitrovica zone, which is a majority-Serbian enclave, and may end up joined to Serbia.

Daniel Serwer at the U.S.-government-funded United States Institute for Peace (USIP) said by e-mail that “the greatest risk in Kosovo independence will be partition: Belgrade has made it clear it intends to hold on to the northern three and a half municipalities.”

Russian President and Serbian ally Vladimir Putin warned that any declaration of statehood by Pristina would be “illegal, ill-conceived and immoral.”

Mr. Putin may avenge the Western decision to support Kosovo’s independence by backing secessionist movements in two breakaway provinces of pro-Western Georgia — Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Less than a half hour after Mr. Thaci’s declaration, Russia called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the matter, and both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have indicated that they will seek U.N. recognition.


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