Steering Group Grants Kosovo Full Sovereignty
July 02, 2012
The International Steering Group for Kosovo has decided to grant full rights of national sovereignty to Kosovo from September.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger declared on July 2 that international supervision of Kosovo had come to an end.
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who attended the group's meeting in Vienna, hailed the move as "historic."
The Steering Group -- composed of 23 European countries, Turkey, and the United States -- has been responsible for overseeing Kosovo's independence and helping establish democratic institutions there.
The predominantly ethnic Albanian territory has been under international administration since a NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's forces in 1999.
The head of the Steering Group's International Civilian Office in Kosovo, Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith, said in Vienna that Kosovo had become a "modern, democratic, multiethnic" country since the ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence in 2008.
Feith said much remained to be done in the new nation. But he hailed what he called Kosovo's "notable progress" in recent years.
Serbian Concerns For Minority
Feith's International Civilian Office will shut down when Kosovo formally gains statehood in September.
The NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, and the European Union's police and legal experts, are expected to remain in Kosovo to help ensure stability and security.
Austrian Foreign Minister Spindelegger said Kosovo was on track to eventually become a member of the European Union.
The meeting was held amid Serbian concerns that the international community's withdrawal from Kosovo could put the territory's Serbian minority at greater risk under the rule of the Albanian majority.
Last week, five buses carrying Kosovo Serb schoolchildren in Pristina were pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails in the latest flare-up of ethnic violence. The unrest prompted Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to call for greater international protection of Kosovo's Serbs.
Serbia's government, Kosovo Serbs, and Serbia's traditional ally, Russia, reject the ethnic Albanian declaration of Kosovo independence, arguing the territory is still a Serbian province.
Kosovo's independence has been recognized by 86 countries, including the United States and most EU nations.
With reporting by dpa and AFP
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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