An international group has declared Kosovo a sovereign state. The former Serbian province will soon run its own government, but peacekeepers will stay to diffuse tensions between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo is to receive full status as a sovereign state beginning in September, according to an announcement made on Monday by an international committee in Vienna.
The International Steering Group (ISG)-made up of 23 European nations, the United States, and Turkey-has been overseeing Kosovo since it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
"This is a clear sign of the confidence that is being placed in Kosovo," Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told the dpa news agency. “It is now mature enough to stand on its own feet and to take over full responsibility for the future of all its citizens," he said.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called the decision “historic” for the former Serbian province.
‘Much remains to be done,' says ISG
The ISG's decision came after four years of supervising Kosovo's implementation of United Nations guidelines for autonomy. Monday's announcement noted the country's great strides toward building a democratic state that guarantees the rights of all of its ethnic communities.
Despite the new status, international peacekeepers are to remain in the country beyond September. Tensions persist in the north between Serbs, who form the majority in that region and the ethnic Albanian authorities. The announcement did not indicate how long the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR or EU police would stay in Kosovo.
A final end to foreign rule
The new status will mark the culmination of a process which began when NATO forces launched a 1999 bombing campaign to end inter-ethnic fighting in Kosovo which effectively ended Serbia's rule over the territory. Subsequently, Kosovo was placed under UN administration until its 2008 declaration of independence.
Kosovo's minority Serb population does not recognize the government in Pristina. It also worries that the majority Albanian population will abuse its power once the international community leaves.
Belgrade said the ISG's decision was bad news for the Kosovo's Serb minority.
"When any international mission in Kosovo leaves, it can mean a greater danger for both Serbs and Serbia," Serbia's state secretary for Kosovo, Oliver Ivanovic, told Belgrade's B92 television.
kms/pfd (dpa, AFP)