Kosovo marks five years of independence
PRISTINA (AFP) – Kosovo marks five years of independence on Sunday as relations thaw with long-time foe Serbia but many in the impoverished territory are still suffering.
Almost 100 countries have recognised Kosovo since ethnic Albanians proclaimed independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, following a 1998-1999 conflict that ended with a NATO bombing campaign against late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s forces.
Belgrade still considers the region its southern province, but talks mediated by the European Union have led to a thaw in relations in recent months.
With Serbia’s EU membership dependent on improving ties with Pristina, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, who has been holding regular talks with his Pristina counterpart Hashim Thaci, has hinted Belgrade may give up its opposition to Kosovo’s long-held goal of joining the United Nations.
But stumbling blocks remain, including Belgrade’s hope for some autonomy for the 120,000-strong Serb minority in Kosovo, who refuse to recognise ethnic Albanian authorities in the territory.
Kosovo’s foreign minister, Enver Hoxhaj, told German radio ahead of Sunday’s anniversary that the territory’s next talks with Belgrade would open the door to elections that would help integrate ethnic Serbs.
He said he expected the next negotiations, due later this month in Brussels, would lead to an end to parallel institutions in minority areas in the north of Kosovo, such as ethnic Serb police.