- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Birth pangs from the emergence of the world’s newest nation reverberated yesterday from New York to Moscow as Serbia and its ally Russia rejected a unilateral declaration of independence by the self-proclaimed “Republic of Kosova.”

The gambit did little to dampen the jubilation in the streets of Pristina, where red-and-black-clad celebrants waved U.S. and Kosovar flags, exploded firecrackers and ate from an enormous cake intended to feed 30,000 people.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci issued his proclamation at midafternoon, using the Albanian-language spelling for the longtime Serbian province. The parliament followed quickly with a unanimous vote of approval as tens of thousands gathered outside.

Serbia, however, rejected the loss of a province it considers its historic heartland, and its ally Russia asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

Seven Western countries — Belgium, France, Italy, Britain, Croatia, Germany and the United States — jointly announced after the closed-door meeting that the council was deadlocked.

“We regret that the Security Council cannot agree on the way forward, but this impasse has been clear for many months,” said Belgian Ambassador Johan C. Verbeke, speaking on behalf of the seven.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later called for both Serbs and Kosovars to “reaffirm and act upon their commitments to refrain from any actions or statements that could endanger peace, incite violence or jeopardize security in Kosovo or the region.”

Kosovo has been under international protection since the 1990s, when Western forces intervened to end a heavy-handed Serbian campaign against ethnic Albanian rebels.

Both the United States and the European Union were expected to quickly recognize the newest member of the community of nations, though President Bush remained somewhat vague yesterday.

Asked whether he would recognize Kosovo, he repeatedly referred to U.S. support for “the Ahtisaari plan,” a reference to a program put forward by Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and U.N. envoy for Kosovo.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) describes that plan as “a compromise that offers Kosovo Albanians the prospect of independence [and] Kosovo Serbs extensive rights, security and privileged relations with Serbia.”

But the ICG also says the plan cautioned Kosovo against any unilateral declaration of independence.

The Serbian government is particularly concerned about the welfare of ethnic Serbs who are concentrated in the north of Kosovo, and who have repeatedly clashed with their ethnic Albanian neighbors.

“We are afraid that in independent Kosovo, we will be second-class,” one ethic Serb told The Washington Times in a small Serbian enclave between Pristina’s city center and the airport.

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

However, fears of immediate violence were largely unfounded, as troops from the international Kosovo Force stayed on high alert. “We will leave the violence to the violators,” Mr. Kostunica said in Belgrade, Serbia.

Nevertheless, police in Belgrade fired tear gas and rubber bullets in skirmishes with protesters who opposed the declaration. Groups of masked thugs ran through downtown, smashing windows and ransacking tobacco stands, the Associated Press reported. At least 30 persons were injured, about half of them police officers, hospital officials said.

More than 1,000 demonstrators stoned windows at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. Others broke windows at McDonald’s restaurants and at the embassy of Slovenia, another former Yugoslav republic, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency. Later in the evening, police prevented a group of protesters from approaching the Albanian Embassy, the AP reported.

In Pristina, celebrants rode through the streets on car roofs despite freezing temperatures and sang patriotic songs, waving the new Kosovo flag with a black double-headed eagle.

Outside the Hotel Pristina, where a large stage was arranged for the occasion, a large sign read “Welcome to our new born nation.”

Mr. Thaci, in his formal remarks, said he was “feeling the heartbeat of my ancestors” in Kosovo.

However, Serbs also cite blood links to the territory, where its medieval kings fought epic losing battles against Muslim Turkish invaders.

Belgrade still is dominant in the northern Kosovo Mitrovica zone, which is a majority-Serbian enclave, and could end up joined to Serbia.

Daniel Serwer at the U.S.-government-funded United States Institute for Peace 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.”

There also are fears that Russia will 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.

Both territories have indicated they will seek U.N. recognition.

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