Kosovo's Serbs have launched their own assembly Saturday in defiance of the United Nations and the majority ethnic Albanian government, which proclaimed independence four months ago.
Kosovo Serbs are not willing to unite with ethnic Albanians behind the Kosovo flag
In a challenge to the newly independent Kosovo state and its western backers, hardline Serbs in Kosovo inaugurated their own "parliament" in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica June 28.
The assembly has no executive authority and the election of its forty-five members in May during Serbia's general and municipal elections has been declared illegal by the UN and Kosovo's majority Albanian government.
Kosovo's Deputy Prime Minister Ram Manaj denounced the assembly as "an attempt to create a virtual parliament which will continue to manipulate the Serbs."
Growing ethnic divide
The creation of a separate Serb parliament in the heart of Kosovo is a provocation and reflects the deepening ethnic partition since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February.
In the past, Kosovo Serbs have protested the secession from Serbia by boycotting the Kosovo police force, courts and administration; and they have burned down customs posts on the northern border with Serbia.
The convening of their own parliament is another step towards cementing the ethnic divisions in what they still regard as a province of Serbia. The Kosovo Serbs have dubbed their parliament the Assembly of the Union of Municipalities of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and drafted its mandate.
A statement read out at the session in Mitrovica said the assembly would be "the representative body of the Serbian republic in the autonomous province of Kosovo."
Serbia's support not certain
"The Serb parliament will fight against the creation of yet another Albanian state in the Balkans," Kosovo Serb nationalist leader Marko Jaksic told Reuters.
Analysts say the assembly lacks the full backing of Serbia's pro-EU Democratic Party (DS) which is poised to lead a new coalition government in Serbia after having defeated the nationalists.
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci speaks during a celebration of Kosovo's constitution in Pristina June 15
Ninety percent of Kosovo's two million people are Albanians. Four months ago they declared independence from Serbia, despite opposition from Belgrade and strong intervention from Moscow, which called the secession a violation of international law. Some 43 countries have recognized the independent state including most European Union members.
Kosovo's new constitution went into effect June 15, paving the way for the creation of EULEX, a 2,000-strong EU police and justice mission. The UN's UNMIK mission which has run Kosovo since a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ousted Serbian forces will transfer its main responsibilities to EULEX and Kosovar authorities.