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February 16, 2008
Kosovo to declare Independence Sunday
In a move guaranteed to open an international hornet's nest of trouble, Kosovo will declare its independence from Serbia on Sunday:
"Tomorrow will be a day of calm, of understanding, and of state engagements for the implementation of the will of the citizens of Kosovo," said Thaci after meeting religious leaders from the predominantly ethnic Albanian province. After 9 long years and an open ended committment by NATO troops to keep the peace between ethnic Albanians and Serbs and an ineffectual UN administration that did virtually nothing in that time to resolve the issues between Kosovo and Serbia, Kosovo is taking a step formally that most international observers say has been a def facto situation since the war; independence from Serbia.
Expectations that independence would be declared on Sunday have been running high but Thaci's comments marked the first top-level confirmation that the long-awaited break with Serbia would take place this weekend.
Thaci appealed for celebrations to unfold with "dignity ... on the day of the declaration of independence, on the big day, on the historic day ... a day of thanksgiving for a sovereign and independent Kosovo".
Kosovo inched closer to its historic declaration of independence with a growing sense of excitement among its people and the European Union launching a police and judicial mission to smoothen the birth of the world's newest state.
Serbia, backed by Russia, has said that the split -- supported by the United States and most major European powers, nine years after Kosovo was put under interim UN administration -- would be illegal.
This move couldn't have come at a worse time. With the US, NATO, and the EU all supporting Kosovo independence, the Russians and the Serbian allies are presented with a humiliating fait accompli. It will not sit well in Moscow or Belgrade and could lead to a variety of sanctions by Russia against Europe. And it won't help the frosty relations between Washington and Moscow either.
For the Serbs, this is a devastating blow. Kosovo is considered the center of Serbian culture and religion. The majority Albanian population has dominated the province for hundreds of years, however, and many see the move for independence as long overdue.