Further Fragmentation for Former Yugoslavia

Nearly nine years after the end of the Balkan war that tore apart former Yugoslavia, Kosovo Albanians are on their way to gaining an independent state.

It's the final step in the dismantling of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The redrawing, once again, of Balkan borders will increase tensions between Russia, which opposes the move, and the United States and the European Union that both back an independent Kosovo.  

According to the plan of the U.N. mediator Martti Atisaari, Kosovo's independence will be gradual and take place "under international supervision."  

On Sunday, the Kosovan Parliament is expected to approve a plan that would set in motion total independence by March. The writing of a constitution would soon follow.

A transition period of four months would then begin to prepare for the transfer of powers now exercised by the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has administered the province since 1999.

Serbs still don't know what they will do this weekend.

"I will take my wife and daughter to Serbia proper, but I will not go before hearing the announcement of independence on TV … because I still refuse to believe in it. I will wait until the last moment," Drago Krstic, a Serb from Mitrovica region, said in a telephone interview. "Then, I will return home as soon as possible, in order to defend my house."  

The United Nations, the government of Kosovo and representatives of the European Union must also agree on the exact powers to be given to the European mission: 2,000 police officers and legal experts will oversee the initial functioning of an independent Kosovo's police, justice and customs organizations.

In the absence of a new U.N. resolution, the United States and EU countries are looking to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to gradually reduce the number of UNMIK officials to make way for EULEX, the EU mission.

On the other side, Serbia and its ally Russia will oppose the proclamation of independence as illegal.  

Both Serbia and Russia claim to have secret plans ready in case the West recognizes Kosovo's independence. Neither have said what those plans might be.

"Serbia has the right … and Serbia will continue, through a series of concrete steps, to … prove that Kosovo is part of Serbia," Vojislav Kotunica, the Serbian prime minister, told a news conference Thursday.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin called the unilateral declaration of independence "immoral and illegal." He said Russia has a plan in place if Kosovo declares independence, but didn't give any hint as to what form of action would be taken. He said Russia would not follow Europe's lead and recognize the independence of two pro-Moscow separatist territories in neighboring Georgia.

"If someone takes an idiotic and illegal decision, this doesn't mean we should do the same," he told reporters at his annual news conference.

Coming up to this crucial deadline, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has promised a "new reality," and reiterated that the security of Serbs and other minorities would be guaranteed in an independent Kosovo.

"We close the chapter of the past and open the chapter of the future," he said. "Kosovo is the homeland of all its citizens," he told reporters in Pristina.

The population of Pristina eagerly awaits that day, hoping that independence will bring jobs, investment and integration into the European Union. The government has spent $1.5 million for the celebratory party.

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