Kosovo Albanians set to break away from Serbia
Pristina, February 17, 2008
Kosovo Albanians prepared to declare independence from Serbia on Sunday at a special session of parliament that will end a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
'Kosovo citizens today await an independent, sovereign and democratic country, a state for all with equal rights,' Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told Reuters before summoning the assembly in the capital Pristina.
'It is time to take the decision to make Kosovo a member of the community of free nations,' he said. The session was due to start at 3pm (1400 GMT).
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica scheduled a televised address to the Serbian people at 4pm (1500 GMT).
Backed by Russia, Serbs vow never to give up a territory in which their history goes back 1,000 years. But the West supports the demand of Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians for their own state, nine years after Nato went to war to save them from Serbian forces.
Kosovo will be the sixth state carved from the former Serbian-dominated Yugoslav federation since 1991, after Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro.
Serbs in the north of Kosovo, adjoining Serbia proper, will reject independence, cementing an ethnic partition that will weigh on the new state for years to come.
Fewer than half of Kosovo's 120,000 remaining Serbs live in the north, while the rest are in scattered enclaves protected by Nato peacekeepers. Thaci sought to reassure them, saying 'Kosovo is the homeland of all its citizens.'
He said Kosovo was committed to a Western-backed plan for independence, supervised by the European Union and providing guarantees for the Serb minority.
The EU, which on Saturday endorsed a rule-of-law mission to Kosovo, will meet on Monday to discuss the territory's secession after years of economic and political limbo as a ward of the United Nations.
The United States and most EU members are expected to quickly recognise Kosovo, despite failing to win a new UN Security Council resolution sanctioning the move. Russia blocked its adoption last year.
President George W. Bush said the United States, which has 1,700 troops in Kosovo's Nato-led force of 16,000, was determined to keep the peace.
'The United States will continue to work with our allies to do the very best we can to make sure there's no violence,' he said during a visit to Tanzania.-Reuters