Priština, 7 February 2008 – Serb leaders in Kosovo pledged Thursday to shun any declaration of independence by ethnic Albanians and set up their own institutions in the northern part of the breakaway province.

Some 200 minority Serb representatives met in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica to discuss how to deal with an imminent declaration of independence by the ethnic Albanian majority.

The move is likely to raise tensions as Kosovo nears a declaration of independence from Serbia, which ethnic Albanians say is only days away. Serbs in Kosovo have in the past warned against independence, but this is the first time they have taken action to break off ties.

A senior Serb leader said the minority would form an assembly that would regulate the lives of Serbs in Kosovo. «The assembly of the Serb population in Kosovo commits itself to establish its own institutions … that regulate civilian and all other aspects of governance,» Tomislav Zivkovic told the delegates.

Serb leaders also said they would «obstruct and boycott» a planned EU police and justice mission, which would replace a United Nations mission in charge of running the province since 1999.

A Serb member of Kosovo’s parliament said Serb lawmakers would disregard a declaration of independence and boycott parliament. «The moment that Kosovo’s parliament declares Kosovo’s independence, we are going to leave the parliament and that’s for sure,» Slavisa Petkovic, a lawmaker and former minister in Kosovo’s government told reporters in the village of Caglavica, just south of the capital Pristina. The Serb leaders are to meet again on Feb. 15 to work out details of how the assembly would work and its constitution.

The decision to set up their own institutions is reminiscent of the early 1990s when ethnic Albanians ignored Serbia’s decision to revoke the province’s autonomy, setting up their own institutions and boycotting central authorities as part of their quest for an independent state.

The developments lead to an ethnic Albanian insurgency that was met by a brutal crackdown from Serbian forces, eventually forcing NATO to bomb Serb troops and install a U.N. administration.

Some 100,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, some of them scattered in central and eastern Kosovo while the rest are grouped in the troubled north bordering the rest of Serbia.
Although NATO peacekeepers patrol Kosovo’s north alongside a multiethnic local police force, the area is dominated by minority Serbs and has eluded full U.N. and NATO control.

In Pristina, Kosovo’s prime minister said the issue of Kosovo statehood was «a done deal. «We’re now finishing up the last details,» Hashim Thaci told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Although no date has been made known, ethnic Albanian leaders are expected to declare Kosovo independent from Serbia in mid-February and count on the support of the United States and most nations in the European Union.

Russia has sided with Serbia against Kosovo’s independence and has threatened to veto any move in the U.N. Security Council to recognize Kosovo as a state.

Source: AP