Kosovo declares independence

Updated on Feb 18, 2008 02:54 AM IST

Despite fierce opposition from Serbia and its ally Russia, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

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Reuters | ByShaban Buza, Pristina

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

The proclamation was made by leaders of the breakaway province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, including former guerrillas who fought for independence in a 1998-99 war which claimed about 10,000 civilian lives.

"We, the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state," said the text read out in parliament by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Kosovo will be a "society that respects human dignity" and is committed to confronting the "painful legacy of the recent past, in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness".

All 109 deputies present at the session in the capital Pristina voted in favour with a show of hands. Eleven deputies from ethnic minorities, including Serbs, were absent.

Belgrade bitterly opposes the secession. Backed by Russia, Serbs vow never to give up the territory, in which their history goes back 1,000 years.

But the West supports the demand of Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians for their own state, nine years after NATO went to war to save them from Serbian forces.

Kosovo will be the sixth state carved from the former Serbian-dominated Yugoslav federation since 1991, after Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro.

It will be the world's 193rd independent country but Serbia says it will never win a seat at the United Nations.

Serbs in the north of Kosovo will reject independence, cementing an ethnic partition that will weigh on the new state for years to come. Fewer than half of Kosovo's 120,000 remaining Serbs live in the north, while the rest are in scattered enclaves protected by NATO peacekeepers.

The United States and most EU members are expected to quickly recognise Kosovo, despite failing to win United Nations Security Council approval -- blocked by Russia last year.

The EU will also send a supervisory mission to take over from the current UN authorities.

(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Ellie Tzortzi and Richard Meares)

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