Kosovo may declare independence Sunday

A report just now from the Agence France Press says that “Without giving their sources, several newspapers in Pristina reported Saturday that the declaration would come around 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) on Sunday to the strains of ‘Ode to Joy’, the anthem of the European Union. Street parties and fireworks would follow, although Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s government — wary of a backlash involving Kosovo’s jittery Serb minority — is appealing for independence to begin with ‘dignity’. ‘Everything is pointing to Sunday’, a source close to Thaci’s government told AFP, as Serbia all but gave up hope of hanging onto the province it regards as the cradle of its culture and Serbian Orthodox religion. Expections are running high in Pristina that the United States and major European nations such as Britain and France will simultaneously recognise Kosovo’s independence from Monday. In Brussels, the European Union officially launched its so-called rule of law mission to help ease Kosovo’s transition to independence — even as the bloc’s 27 members were divided on how to recognize the new state. In the days after independence is declared, the EULEX Kosovo mission will begin a 120-day countdown to taking over policing duties from a United Nations mission, which will up stakes and leave. ‘We’ve had an office there (in Kosovo) for this express purpose since April 2006′, one EU official said Friday. A ‘planning team’ of more than 100 people has also been in place in Pristina for several weeks … EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday to try to draw up a ‘common platform’ in response to Kosovo’s expected independence, one which does not include the notion of the bloc as a whole recognising the new state. EU leaders committed in December to help with a settlement on Kosovo’s final status, including economic and political assistance and by offering Kosovo the possibility of EU membership some time in the distant future”.

The AFP report also states that “Thaci’s government has reportedly ordered 80 tonnes of fireworks from Bulgaria for the occasion” — despite the fact that it also says “some countries will refuse, at least in the short term, to recognise the new state … Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain are among them, while others like Malta and Portugal would prefer that Kosovo’s future be decided in the UN Security Council where Russia has effectively vetoed independence”.

This AFP report has just been posted here.

The Associated Press reported from Brussels a little later that “The European Union gave the final approval Saturday for the deployment of a 1,800-member policing and administration mission in Kosovo … In a legal text published Saturday, the EU said the mission, EU-LEX, will ‘assist the Kosovo institutions, judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies in their progress toward sustainability and accountability’. It added that the EU’s administrative tasks would help in ‘further developing and strengthening an independent multiethnic justice system and multiethnic police and customs service … free from political interference’.”

The AP report added that “No EU nations objected to the mission, which will take four months to put in place, and is designed to help build a police, justice and customs system for Kosovo free of political interference. The force will include 700 police officers for patrols and who are trained in crowd and riot control. Judges, prosecutors and other legal experts would be sent to offer training and for administrative work. Although Kosovo is technically part of Serbia, the impoverished province of two million people has been administered by the United Nations since a brief war in 1999. The EU force will replace the U.N. mission now in Kosovo. Officials said earlier this week that the EU force could grow to more than 2,000 people besides 1,000 other non-EU experts from the United States and other countries … Cyprus lifted its threat to block the mission last week but along with other EU nations like Spain, Romania, Greece, remains opposed to recognizing the independence of Kosovo. EU Foreign ministers will hold talks on Monday to try to forge a common stance on Kosovo”. This AP report can be read in full here.

A posting on the Borderpoint group on yahoo (whose members discuss territorial and boundary issues) says that the Norwegian newspaper Aftenpost is reporting that “More than 100 countries are supposed to recognize the declaration“. Those who read Norwegian can check this out here.

It is not entirely clear, however, that (as the AFP wrote) Serbia — or at least official Serbia — has “all but given up hope of hanging onto the province”, or that it is prepared to gracefully concede … The AP report, by contrast, stated that “Serbia and Russia are against the EU mission, arguing it has no legal authority from the United Nations to deploy. The two also oppose independence for Kosovo, saying international borders can only be changed with the agreement of all parties involved.”

The McClatchy newspaper group, in a report datelined Pristina, Serbia (still),writes that “Casting a shadow over the country’s birth are the discontent of Serbia, which considers Kosovo to be its cultural and religious heartland, and the province’s Serbian minority, estimated to be about 100,000 strong of the 2 million population. They say they’ll never accept an independent Kosovo. Most Serbs identify with the Serbian Orthodox Church, while most Albanians are Muslims … In Kosovo’s north, the Ibar River divides the city of Mitrovica, a symbol of the deep fault lines that remain and the failure of international efforts to build a multi-ethnic state in Kosovo. Today the city is ethnically divided, with the region south of the river predominantly Albanian and the north almost completely Serbian. North of the river, the Serbian flag flutters over buildings and residents buy thick espressos with Serbian dinars from salaries and pensions paid by the government in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. In the south, the official currency is the euro, and residents carry U.N.-issued travel documents and drive cars with plates issued by the Kosovo government. There are no restrictions on movement in the city. But both Albanians and Serbs say they fear to cross the bridge connecting Mitrovica’s halves, which NATO peacekeepers watch over … If there’s trouble in coming days, it’s likely to be in Mitrovica, where tensions are running high. A small explosion Thursday night shattered the windows in a Serbian house on the north side … Many residents of Mitrovica, in both the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities, now predict that independence will bring the de facto partition of Kosovo along the Ibar, with the northern area continuing to be administered as part of Serbia. Kosovo Serb leaders warned as much on Friday at a meeting attended by thousands in northern Mitrovica. Nebojfa Jovic warned that the international community could ‘forget about northern Kosovo’ if the declaration of independence went ahead. Serb leaders still hope they can halt the recognition of an independent Kosovo”. This report is posted here.

Nor can Russia cannot be expected to join in the celebrations — though it will let its displeasure be manifest mainly elsewhere and in other ways …

Given the line-up, the UN will be very happy at the eventual prospect of one day having a new member state …