`Difficult times` for Kosovo on independence anniversary
Pristina: Kosovo celebrated the third anniversary of its declaration of independence on Thursday amid warnings from its President that it faced a struggle to cement its international credibility.
Jakup Krasniqi, the interim president, said in a televised address that Kosovo had made good progress since it declared itself a sovereign state on February 17, 2008, much to the fury of its former Serbian rulers.
But with the number of countries recognising its independence now slowing to a trickle, and with the Prime Minister facing accusations that he was linked to organ trafficking, Krasniqi admitted that Kosovo was facing difficulties.
"During the three years of independence, Kosovo has created a democratic system and the institutions of statehood... recording solid economic and social development," he said in his address to the nation.
However, he warned that Kosovo had to confront the "difficult tasks of strengthening (its) international identity and credibility”.
With the initial euphoria having long faded, the harsh realities of life in one of the poorest corners of Europe have led to disillusionment among the two million population.
Kosovo`s unemployment rate stands at 40 percent while 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
"Having your own country after the brutal oppression over us for decades by Serbia is the biggest gift the people could have in its lifetime," 39-year-old engineer Astrit Maloku said.
"But, our leaders cannot use (independence) as an excuse for failing to make our life easier and better."
In addition to its economic woes, Kosovo is in political turmoil with Hashim Thaci, the Prime Minister, still trying to cobble together a fresh coalition after being forced into early elections in December.
Although Thaci`s party did come out on top, he fell some distance short of an overall majority.
And Kosovo`s image has also taken a battering after Thaci and other senior officials were linked to organised crime and organ trafficking following a report by the Council of Europe.
Thaci has strongly denied the claims which date back to the time when he was a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army as it fought against Serb forces.
The report states the KLA had special detention camps where Serbs and others accused of collaborating with Belgrade were held. Some of the prisoners, mainly Serbs, were allegedly killed and their organs harvested to sell on the black market.
Speaking at the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Kosovo`s acting foreign minister Vlora Citaku repeated that the government both rejected and was "appalled" by the allegations in the report that "has regretfully harmed our international reputation".
Kosovo received a major diplomatic boost last July when the International Court of Justice ruled that the 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.
But the ruling has not triggered the hoped-for deluge of international recognition. Although the United States and most members of the European Union did recognise Kosovo as independent soon after the declaration, further recognition has been hard to come by despite intensive lobbying.
US President Barack Obama did extend best wishes on the anniversary.
"This is a time both to reflect upon Kosovo`s long struggle for independence, and to look forward to a future of greater prosperity for all of Kosovo`s citizens," he said in a statement.
Despite the status dispute, Belgrade and Pristina have agreed to EU-brokered talks in order to ease strained relations. They are set to tackle basic issues, such as communications, transport and energy.
As a date for the talks has yet to be set, Thaci promised in his anniversary address that the talks with Serbia would be one of the first tasks for the new government.
"The new institutions of Kosovo will begin contacts and dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia about practical matters," he vowed.
However Pristina remains firm that any attempt to try and question the status of Kosovo would trigger an automatic retreat from the negotiating table.
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