Fireworks, flags and fury as Kosovo set for rebirth
By Catherine Philp in Pristina
Saturday February 16 2008
The world's newest nation will be born this weekend to mass celebrations on the streets of Kosovo and fireworks of a very different kind on the international stage.
Thousands of red-and-black flags fluttered from buildings across Kosovo, alongside the flags of the US, Britain and NATO -- a mark of appreciation for their efforts in freeing the province from Serbian rule.
Serbia, furious at the imminent loss of a region that it regards as the cradle of its Church and nation, has said that it will battle to prevent Kosovo's independence becoming a reality.
Russia joined Serbia in opposition to Kosovo's supporters at the UN, but the fierce rhetoric looked unlikely to derail the march towards independence, carefully planned and agreed with the European Union.
In often tense discussions behind closed doors, the US reminded Serbia of the role that it had played in bringing about Kosovo's secession, arguing it was an exceptional case made inevitable by the brutal repression unleashed by Belgrade to crush the ethnic Albanian rebellion.
About 3,000 people were killed and 900,000 forced from their homes in 1999 as Serbian security forces moved to expel ethnic Albanians.
At the time they made up nearly 90pc of the population.
"The ethnic cleansing policies of Slobodan Milosevic ensured that Kosovo would never again be ruled from Belgrade," Alejandro Wolff, the US deputy ambassador, said. Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo, refused to confirm the exact time and date of the declaration, although it is widely expected to come at midnight tomorrow.
Belgrade has threatened to downgrade diplomatic ties with countries that support Kosovo's move towards becoming a sovereign state.
And its actions on the ground may be more damaging.
The northern half of Kosovo could be plunged into darkness if Serbia cuts off its supplies of power and water, as has been threatened, and an economic blockade could block vital trade. Fears of violence from Kosovo's Serb minority rose yesterday with an announcement from Serbian leaders that they would not recognise secession.
Some 10pc of seats in the parliament in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, are reserved for Serbs, but are empty because of a boycott of the elections.
That was prompted in part by pressure from Belgrade, to which Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs look for jobs, schools, healthcare and welfare payments. (© The Times, London)
- Catherine Philp in Pristina