Kosovo to declare independence, backed by the West

PRISTINA, Serbia – The last time Kosovo declared independence in 1990 it went unrecognized and ignored. When it splits from Serbia this weekend, it will have the support of the West, which sees no way back.

The breakaway province is poised to cement a secession that its 2 million Albanians believe became irreversible the moment NATO went to war to save them from Serb forces in 1999.

“These will be days of joy and happiness,” Kosovo Prime Minister Has him Thaci said on Wednesday, flanked by the commander of NATO troops in Kosovo and the head of the United Nations mission that has run the province since the war.

“This is a decision based on the sacrifice and political will of the citizens,” said the former guerrilla commander.

The date for the declaration has not been announced, but political sources say plans are in place for Sunday.

Certain of recognition from the United States and most members of the European Union, Kosovo will become the last state to emerge from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Backed by Russia, Serbia will reject the move. It will encourage Kosovo’s 120,000 remaining Serbs to do the same, worsening a de facto ethnic partition that will weigh on the new state for years to come.

A new flag is being prepared and the Kosovo Philharmonic is primed to perform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy to kick off the celebrations. Money has been set aside to import electricity between Feb 15 and 20 to ensure crippling power cuts do not spoil the party.

The 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force has stepped up security around dozens of scattered Serb enclaves.

Serbia has promised retaliation against the new state and its backers — including possible border closures and the expulsion of ambassadors. But there will be no return of the Serb army and police that pulled out in 1999 under NATO bombs.

SERBIA IN CRISIS

The Alliance air war lasted 78 days, to halt indiscriminate killing and ethnic cleansing by Serb forces under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic during a two-year counter-insurgency war.

An estimated 10,000 civilians died, the majority Albanians. Over 800,000 Albanians fled temporarily to Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia. It was the last straw for Western powers who had failed to halt the massacres of Bosnia in 1992-95.

Russia last year blocked Kosovo’s secession at the U.N. Security Council, insisting on the inviolability of Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But Washington and Brussels say the status quo is unsustainable.

An emergency U.N. Security Council session on Thursday, called by Serbia and Russia, is unlikely to halt the process. The EU, which meets on Monday, has committed itself to take on supervision and policing of Kosovo and will share much of the financial burden of the economically backward country.

Kosovo’s secession threatens to wreck Serbia’s governing coalition. Nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and pro-Western President Boris Tadic are split over Serbia’s EU future in the event the bloc backs Kosovo’s secession.

Kostunica has promised to reject the “puppet state” and integration with its EU backers. But Tadic takes a softer line, saying this week: “Serbia’s place is in Europe…I will never give up the struggle for the interests of our people, nor the struggle for Kosovo.”

Kosovo’s first declaration of independence was in 1990, after Milosevic stripped the territory of its autonomy and pursued a Balkan version of apartheid in the impoverished territory.

Passive resistance gave way to guerrilla war in 1998.

“The 1990 declaration was a political statement in the first days of the dissolution of Yugoslavia,” said Agron Bajrami, editor of the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore.

“This time it’s being done in the knowledge that it has the full backing of the West.”

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