Kosovo's lawmakers unanimously adopted a constitution on Wednesday, pledging to build a state with broad provisions for Serb and other minorities.
President Fatmir Sejdiu said that the document was an important step in Kosovo's state-building process and signals Kosovo's commitment to creating a society of equal citizens.
Kosovo, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February. Pledges by its leaders to protect the Serb minority _ much of which was driven out of Kosovo after the 1998-99 war have failed to blunt Belgrade's fierce opposition to the territory's independence. "The guarantees for the minorities express ... the commitment of majority citizens and the institutions to building an independent and sovereign Kosovo, home to all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity," Sejdiu told lawmakers.
The 120-seat assembly approved the constitution with thunderous applause. The act is important for Kosovo's leaders, who are eager to prove Kosovo can run its own affairs with stability, despite Serbia's rejection of its declaration of independence. "We have the privilege to belong to this generation that is approving the highest legal act of the world's youngest country," Sejdiu told the assembly. "Entire generations have sacrificed for this important day."
The United States and many European nations have recognized Kosovo's statehood. Serbia and its ally Russia have opposed it, and Belgrade has vowed to force a renewal of negotiations on its status. Serbia and Kosovo Serbs said they consider Kosovo's constitution "illegitimate and illegal."
Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, described the approval of a constitution as an "illegal act." He said that such a step could not be legally taken without instructions from the United Nations Security Council.
Wednesday's vote paves the way for Kosovo's leaders to formally take over authority from the United Nations administration that has run the territory since the end of the war. That will happen when the constitution takes effect on June 15.
Alexander Ivanko, the spokesman for the U.N. in Kosovo, said that the organization would reassess its role at that time and "deal with the reality on the ground."
The constitution enables Kosovo to assume responsibility over international affairs as well, including defense and intelligence issues, seen as the last vestiges of power that have to be transferred to local authorities. Kosovo's leaders will remain supervised by an EU-led mission with veto power.
Last week, the top European Union official in Kosovo, Pieter Feith, accepted the constitution, saying it provides protection for minorities and is in line with an international settlement that had been proposed for Kosovo.
Serbia rejected that plan, but its terms are still being followed by international authorities involved in Kosovo.