Kosovo was to be granted full sovereignty by the West yesterday, more than four years since its hotly contested declaration of independence.
Western powers in the International Steering Group (ISG) — which has overseen Kosovo since its 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia — were set to announce the end of supervision over the territory.
Kosovo and its 2 million majority ethnic Albanian population has been under some form of international administration since a NATO bombing campaign forced then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s troops out of the Serbian province in 1999.
The ISG — which consists of 23 EU countries, the US and Turkey — was to formally announce the end of its supervision after an afternoon meeting yesterday.
Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga yesterday said that Kosovo deserved to become equal with others.
“Kosovo today is a country that fulfils all the conditions to become a state with a clear Euro-Atlantic integration perspective,” she said in an address to the nation just hours before the ISG meeting.
However, Serbia — which has never accepted Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Feb. 17, 2008 — dismissed the sovereignty announcement as meaningless.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by about 90 countries, including most EU nations, but is rejected by Serbia, Russia and Kosovo’s own ethnic Serbs, who make up about 6 percent of the population, living mainly in the north, on the border with Serbia.
Serbia’s top official for Kosovo, Aleksandar Vulin, said the decision to end ISG supervision was an “historic and tragic mistake.”
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said Belgrade would never recognize Kosovo’s independence “supervised or unsupervised,” and dismissed the ISG decision as meaningless.
Yesterday, Kosovo tried to look to the future, with Kosovar Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj describing full sovereignty as “a new chapter.”
“We expect this act to strengthen our international position and help a lot in gaining new recognitions and becoming a full-fledged member of all international mechanisms,” Hoxhaj said.
The announcement was scheduled to be attended by Thaci, Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith — who chairs the International Civilian Office, which will also be closed down — and a host of other international and Kosovar officials.
Top US diplomat Philip Reeker, who met with Thaci in Pristina yesterday, said the end of supervision would not mean the end of the international community’s support for Kosovo.
“It is not an end to strong international engagement and assistance, including that of the United States,” he said.
The end of supervision will not affect the presence of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in charge of security or European rule-of-law mission EULEX, which was created to boost the justice system.
Kosovo is among the poorest regions in Europe, with almost half of the population jobless and poor, according to international surveys.
The Zeri newspaper warned of “many challenges ahead” as “expectations of the citizens were not fulfilled.”