World

Kosovo's new constitution kicks in against Serbian wishes

Kosovo's constitution went into force on Sunday, handing power to the newly independent nation's ethnic Albanian government after nine years of UN administration.

Kosovo's constitution went into force on Sunday, handing power to the newly independent nation's ethnic Albanian government after nine years of UN administration.

The charter — a milestone that comes four months after leaders declared independence from Serbia — gives the government in Pristina sole decision-making authority.

But it threatens to worsen ethnic tensions between Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs.

Security in the divided northern town of Mitrovica was high a day after a gunman attacked a police station, wounding one officer.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders marked the constitution in a low-key ceremony in Pristina on Sunday evening, opening with Kosovo's newly approved, wordless anthem.

"This is our Bible and our Qur'an. The Constitution will be the backbone of our state," said Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu.

"Our constitution is a modern one that is derived from our democratic traditions and also from Kosovo's unique conditions as a multiethnic community," he added

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told local and international dignitaries the constitution comes after years of "hardship and sacrifice."

"Today the dream of the people of the Republic of Kosovo has come true," he said.

Serbs strongly opposed 

However, Serbs, who make up less than five per cent of Kosovo's population of two million, strongly oppose the ethnic Albanian leadership's decision to declare independence from Serbia after United Nations-mediated talks fell through last year.

The United States, Japan, Britain and some 40 other nations have recognised Kosovo's move but Serbia, its ally Russia and others have called the declaration illegal under international law.

Serbia, which considers Kosovo its historic and religious heartland, insists it still belongs to Belgrade.

In an attempt to undermine Kosovo's independence, Serbia's top official for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, shunned the ceremony in Pristina, instead visiting the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.

The plan to shift Kosovo to government control envisaged a European Union team acting as overseers and taking over from the UN administration.

That administration stepped in following a 78-day, NATO-led air war in 1999 to stop former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

An estimated 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died in the Serb crackdown.

However, Russia blocked the EU from taking on the role, prompting the UN to stay in charge of Serb areas while gradually handing areas over to the EU's police officers, judges and advisers.

Russia said it considers the 2,200-strong EU mission illegal because it has not been approved by the UN Security Council.

Since 1999, Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs have struggled to bridge their differences. Most of Kosovo's 100,000 remaining Serbs live in the north in a region separated from ethnic Albanians by a river.