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Kosovo set for key step towards full indepenence

Kosovo is set to take a key step toward full independence as the international authority that has supervised the former Serbian province for more than four years wraps up its work.

Representatives of the 25 countries that make up the International Steering Group (ISG) were to meet in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, for the last time on Monday to formally end its supervision of the country.

The chairman of the International Civilian Office, Peter Feith, and Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci are two of the key figures set to attend the meeting.

An ISG statement said the decision to wind down its activities came due to the Kosovo government's "clear support of a democratic and multi-ethnic state."

The vast majority of Kosovo's population is ethnic-Albanian but there is also a small minority of Serbs living mainly in the north, along the country's border with Serbia.

The ISG, which includes 23 European Union member countries as well as the United States and Turkey, was set up shortly after Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in early 2008. The ISG members are among the 89 countries that have recognized Kosovo. Notably absent from that list however is Serbia, which says it will never recognize its former province as an independent state.

Two days of celebrations are to be kicked off with an open-air concert in Pristina's main square on Monday evening.

Despite the end of the ISG's mission, there will continue to be a major international presence in the former Serbian province. Both the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping presence will remain in the country, as will the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the European law-enforcement mission EULEX.

"In reality, with EULEX, KFOR and UNMIK ... a different sort of supervision remains in place - the mission changes its form, but the essence remains," Kosovo analyst Illir Deda told Belgrade TV B92.

pfd/kms (dpa, AFP)