07 December 2006

Kosovo: Ethnic Albanians 'ready to declare independence'



Pristina, 9 Nov. (AKI) - Ethnic Albanian leaders in the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo have said they are ready to unilaterally declare independence if the United Nations Security Council postpones a decision on the future status of the province, which has been under UN control since 1999. Most of Kosovo's overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian majority want independence, which is opposed by Belgrade and by the tiny minority of Serbs remaining in the province.


Members of the ethnic Albanian negotiating team on the status issue told Kosovo television Wednesday night that they were ready to activate the so called 'Plan B' and propose to Kosovo's president Fatmir Sejdiu the signing of a declaration of independence.


When the presidency signs the declaration, it would go to the parliament which would adopt it at a formal ceremony and independence would be proclaimed," said negotiating team member Veton Suroi. He said the first recognition of independence might take place the same day, but didn't specify which country this might come from.


The international community had hinted it would make a status decision this year, and had seemed to be moving towards granting independence to Serbia. But the decision now appears to have been postponed until next year because of parliamentary elections expected in Serbia before the year's end. Negotiating team members remained adamant however that "this or the next year, Kosovo will become a sovereign and independent state."


Kosovo prime minister Agim Ceku said that "historical arguments, the injustice done to our people and demographic arguments, work in favor of independence." Ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs in Kosovo by 17 to one and an extremist group called vetevendosje (self-determination) has threatened to hold mass pro-independence demonstrations on 28 November.


Meanwhile, Kosovo Albanian language media reported on Thursday that the 18,000-strong international military force in Kosovo (KFOR) was getting 2,500 American reinforcements this month to safeguard peace while the status decision nears. But KFOR officials said it was just a regular tour of duty replacement and no new reinforcements were coming.


A Kosovo Serb leader, Marko Jaksic, said a declaration of independence by the Kosovo parliament would not be valid, although it could be expected. "Albanians are known for practising violence, they have done it for the past seven years, expelling Serbs, destroying their homes and religious objects, and it's no wonder that they would now resort to a legal violence as well," he said.


Over 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since it was put under UN control and some 3,000 have been killed or listed as missing, according to the International Red Cross. It believes about 1,500 have been murdered.


Violence flared in the province when the Kosovo Liberation Army, supported by ethnic Albanians, came out in open rebellion against Serbian rule in the mid-1990s, sparking a brutal Yugoslav military crackdown. Serbian forces began their 'ethnic cleansing' campaign against up to half of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, triggering a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 that drove Serb forces from the province. Some 800,000 people fled to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro and approximately 10,000 died in the conflict.