Thousands of Kosovo Albanians celebrated the first anniversary of their declaration of independence from Serbia on Tuesday despite a warning from President Fatmir Sejdiu that Serbia still opposed its former province's secession.
"Serbia is continuing its interference and has the tendency to destabilise us," President Fatmir Sejdiu said in an address to parliament.
Kosovo, the smallest Balkan nation, seceded from Serbia in 2008, nine years after Serbia moved ethnic cleansing in a 1998-1999 counter-insurgency war. Nato stopped the Serbian forces in a 78-day bombing.
In the capital, Pristina, thousands of people were singing, blaring traditional music, and waving flags and banners that read "Happy Birthday Kosovo!" The mostly ethnic Albanian territory declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.
One newspaper plastered its front pages with a photo of 1-year-old Pavaresi Sopa under the headline: "She grows." The child, whose first name means independence, was the first ethnic Albanian born after last year's declaration.
Sejdiu said "the mentality of the conflict and hate is still present in the heads and institutions in Serbia".
"These destabilising policies of Belgrade do not help Serbs or the region," he said.
Eighty deputies from the 250-seat Serbian parliament, including the heads of every parliamentary group, announced on Tuesday they would hold a session in the Serb-held part of the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica.
Ethnic violence flared up there in December and January, and police have increased their presence in Mitrovica.
"Despite its latest moves, Serbia has no impact on Kosovo and there is no way back," says Gezim Pula as he purchased a blue-and-yellow Kosovo flag, reported Reuters.
Serbia and its huge ally Russia remain opposed to Kosovo independence although it has been recognised by the United States and its key European allies.
On Monday, Serbia's President Boris Tadic told Reuters his country would never recognize Kosovo. "Serbia will never take a single action that implies Kosovo's independence," he said.
The U.N. General Assembly has approved Serbia's request to ask the International Court of Justice whether Kosovo's secession is legal. The court in The Hague is expected to take one to two years to issue its opinion.
Still, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband sent a statement hailing what he described as "huge progress" in Kosovo over the past year.
Since the declaration, Kosovo's authorities have set up an intelligence agency and are working with NATO to train a lightly armed security force. Kosovo's parliament enacted a new constitution, and U.N. administrators handed over supervision of the fledgling country to a 2,000-member EU mission of police officers, judges and advisers.
Over the past year, the two million-strong republic, of whom 90-percent are ethnic Albanians, has established many trappings of a state beside a new constitution, such as an army, national anthem, flag, passports, identity cards and intelligence agency.
Last Mod: 17 Şubat 2009, 17:26
Leaders on both sides have ruled out carving the territory in two, a point Thaci underlined Tuesday when he addressed Kosovo's lawmakers in a solemn ceremony.
"The key to our success is in unity," he said. "Kosovo will continue to be united as a country and as a nation."