Violence erupts as Kosova declares independence
Kosova's Parliament approved a declaration of independence Feb. 17. All 120 MPs were called for the extraordinary session, but only 109 were present—all the Serb MPs boycotting. Those present—all Albanian—voted unanimously for the declaration. The session was also attended by representatives of the US and EU. When the declaration was read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, Kosova's capital Pristina erupted with fireworks and celebratory gunfire. Celebrations centered around a new monument to independence unveiled earlier in the day. Ethnic Albanians also staged loud celebrations in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and at the EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels. But in the Serb-majority Kosovar town of Mitrovica, two hand grenades were thrown at a UN building and the new EU mission (the latter failing to explode).
Violence in Belgrade
In Belgrade, protesters battled riot police, throwing stones and smashing windows at the US embassy. They also attacked a McDonald's, the Serbian government building, the embassy of Slovenia (which currently holds the EU presidency), the headquarters of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (the only Serbian party that has supported the possibility of Kosova's independence), and a nearby café. They chanted "Kosovo is Serbia" and slogans against Albanians, Serbian President Boris Tadic and pro-Western opposition leaders—but also against conservative Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Masked protesters also chanted the name of the fugitive Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic. The mob finally dispersed after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
Several Serbian ministers had traveled to Kosova to show their support for the ethnic Serb minority. Prime Minister Kostunica charged that the "unilateral declaration of the fake state of Kosovo represents the final act of a policy initiated in 1999 with NATO aggression." He said that Washington was "ready to violate the international order for its own military interests." He accused the US of "putting its policies of force before the United Nations Charter" in a "merciless violation of international order."
Security Council divided
A split emerged at an emergency session of the UN Security Council, where Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said there is no basis for changing the 1999 resolution which placed Kosova under international administration and called the independence declaration illegal. Seven Western governments on the Security Council—the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Croatia—said it was quite clear the situation had moved on. Recognition by a number of EU states is expected after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels the next day. The US is also expected to announce its recognition. Three EU states—Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia—have announced that they will not recognize Kosova.
The declaration approved by Kosova's parliament includes limits on independence as outlined in plans developed by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. Kosovoa will be supervised by an international presence, with strong provisions for Serb minority protection. It will have no armed forces, but will continue to be defended by NATO troops. (BBC, Kosova Live, Sofia Echo, Balkan Insight, Balkan Insight, Feb. 17)