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U.S. Envoy Discusses Kosovo Independence Declaration

Despite pressure from Serbia and Russia, the province of Kosovo declared itself independent from Serbia on Sunday. Ambassador Frank Wisner, the U.S. special envoy to Kosovo, discusses the implications of the Albanian-majority province's declaration of independence.

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    Nine years after the U.S. fought a war there, the tiny European enclave of Kosovo declares itself an independent nation. Margaret Warner has the story.


    Tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian Kosovars poured onto the streets of their capital, Pristina, yesterday, waving Albanian and U.S. flags to celebrate their independence from Serbia.

    Kosovo's declaration of unilateral secession came from Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, in a speech to parliament.

  • HASHIM THACI, Prime Minister, Kosovo (through translator):

    The day has come, and from today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free. My family, like yours, like all families all over Kosovo, never wavered and never lost faith in our countrymen, in God, justice and strength.


    Serbs consider Kosovo their historic heartland.

    In Belgrade, Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, voiced defiant opposition to the breakaway move.

    BORIS TADIC, President of Serbia (through translator): Serbia will take certain measures and do everything in its power to annul this illegal declaration of Kosovo's independence. Serbia will never recognize the independence of Kosovo.


    Today, many European countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, expressed support for Kosovo's actions. Spain, Greece and others did not.

    Hours before the U.S. extended official recognition, President Bush spoke on NBC's "Today" show from Africa.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The Kosovars are now independent. It's something that I have advocated, along with my government.


    Russia, however, lined up with its old ally, Serbia. It said Kosovo's move would encourage other separatist movements in Europe and elsewhere, and it vowed to fight it.

    Kosovo has been at the center of conflict in the Balkan region of the former Yugoslavia for 20 years. Once an autonomous region within Serbia, Kosovo was stripped of that status in 1989 by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

    After Yugoslavia began breaking apart in the early '90s, Kosovo began a guerilla war for independence against the powerful Serb army.

    In 1999, led by the U.S., NATO took military action to halt a Serb campaign of oppression against the mostly Muslim Kosovars. It took 78 days of U.S. and European bombing to force the Serbs to pull their troops from Kosovo.

    Since then, although legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations. In recent years, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari led a U.N.-sponsored effort to broker a separation agreement, but failed.

    Some 16,000 NATO and European forces and nearly 1,500 U.S. troops have been keeping the peace inside Kosovo.

    A number of predominantly Serbian orthodox Christian enclaves will remain in mostly Muslim Kosovo. Yesterday, Prime Minister Thaci promised they'd be protected.

  • HASHIM THACI (through translator):

    Our constitution outlines that Kosovo is a state of all its citizens. There is no room for intimidation, discrimination or unequal treatment of anyone. Discriminatory practices will be stamped out by our state institutions and our society.


    Yet the Serb half of a divided city in northern Kosovo today saw an explosion and protests by thousands of angry Serbs.

    For now, NATO troops will remain in Kosovo. The European Union plans to provide judicial and police support, as well.