PRISTINA, February 17 (RIA Novosti) - Belgrade and Moscow reacted angrily to Kosovo's Western-backed unilateral declaration of independence on Sunday as the region remained braced for clashes between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.
"We have waited for this day for a very long time," Kosovan Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told a packed parliament at the start of an emergency session called on Sunday afternoon to, as he said, "take decisions on the future of our nation."
He said the new state would be "proud, independent and free."
Both Thaci and Kosovan President Fatmir Sejdiu pledged that the new state would respect the rights of all ethnic groups. Thaci also said that Kosovo was a unique case, and that it should not set a precedent for other secessionist regions.
The vote for independence was unanimously passed with a show of hands.
There were celebrations across Kosovo following the declaration, as thousands of people poured onto the streets of what is now, notwithstanding opposition from Serbia and Belgrade, among others, the world's newest state.
REACTIONS FROM BELGRADE AND MOSCOW
Both Belgrade and Moscow reacted angrily to the declaration of independence by Kosovo.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that it "violates international order," and that Kosovo was a "false state."
This was done in violation of international law and the UN resolution.
"Kosovo will forever remain a part of Serbia," he said. "We do not recognize the forceful creation of this false state. We must support our countrymen in Kosovo."
"As long as the Serb people exist, Kosovo will be Serbia," he went on. Belgrade has ruled out the use of force to retake Kosovo, however.
Kosovo is to Serbia kind of like the Alamo is to Texas.
Serbia's main ally, Russia, immediately called for emergency UN Security Council consultations on the issue. Moscow is deeply opposed to the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. It has said that it contradicts international law, and sets a dangerous precedent for other secessionist regions.
The UN Security Council meeting called by Russia is due to be held at 6:00 p.m. GMT on Sunday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence could lead to new conflicts in the Balkans.
"The decision of the leaders of Kosovo is fraught [with the danger of] an escalation in tensions and ethnic violence in the province, and new conflicts in the Balkans," the ministry announced on its website.
A Kremlin spokesman called the declaration "illegitimate" on Russia's Vesti TV channel.
Russia, which has consistently maintained that independence for Kosovo contradicts UN Resolution 1244 on territorial integrity, also called on the UN and NATO to annul the declaration of sovereignty.
The UN can be pretty useless.
FEARS OF CLASHES
NATO peacekeeping troops are on alert, ready to deal with any clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo.
A short time before the declaration of independence, Kosovo police stopped hundreds of Serbian reservists who had attempted to cross into the then-Serbian province to protest its breakaway from Belgrade.
U.S. President George Bush, currently on a week-long tour of Africa, said in Tanzania before the declaration that, "The United States will continue to work with our allies to the very best we can to make sure there's no violence."
No violence as long as things happen the way King George wants.
"We are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo," he went on.
The EU also called for calm. "We appeal to all parties in Kosovo and in the wider region to remain calm and not to respond to any provocation," said EU spokesman Jens Mester. "The international community will not tolerate violent action in Kosovo."
The European Union has given its final approval for sending a civilian and police mission to Kosovo to replace the current UN mission, diplomatic sources in Brussels said on Saturday.
Russia has hinted that it may now recognize Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"The declaration of sovereignty by Kosovo and its recognition will undoubtedly be taken into account in [Russia's] relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.
Georgia, however, does not intend to recognize Kosovo's independence, and the issue is not on the agenda, a parliamentary spokesman for the former Soviet republic has said.
He said Georgia was more concerned by Russia's stance on South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"The issue is not on the agenda. We care about the future of our territories," he said. "We will wait and see what Russia does concerning Abkhazia and South Ossetia."
South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia following bloody conflicts in the wake of the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.
Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a conflict between Albanian and Serb forces in 1999.
Here's the real issue, other than oil and heroin: causing problems for Russia.
When the Soviet Union was established, the communist leaders in the Kremlin drew the borders among the various republics right through the middle of the homelands of various ethnic groups.
As long as the Soviet Union stayed together, this was not a problem -- people could visit their extended families, share their common culture... but, if the Soviet Union should ever begin to dissolve, these republic boundaries would become international borders, fortified and patrolled; this would serve as a powerful disincentive for the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
What we have been seeing since the Soviet Union dissolved has been exactly this kind of ethnic and separatist violence.
By promoting the independence of Kosovo, the Bush Administration has been encouraging these separatist movements along the periphery of Russia, thus tying down a powerful potential foe, and reviving the icy winds of the Cold War.
But, as when we supported the mujahideen against the Kremlin in the 1980's, so now are we starting a snowball rolling downhill, without realizing what all is in its way.
Another intended victim is obviously China.
We continue with Tibetan language seen hurt by China's neglect, by Ben Blanchard:
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government is neglecting and actively undermining the Tibetan language as part of continuing efforts to dilute the region's unique culture, a human rights group said on Thursday.
Schools are forcing Tibetan children to learn China's national language, Mandarin, at a younger and younger age and are failing to support use of Tibetan in official fields, the Free Tibet Campaign said in a new report.
"China's insistence on Chinese language in Tibetan schools has failed a generation of Tibetans who now lag behind the rest of China in terms of basic literacy," the group's Matt Whitticase said in an emailed statement.
"But the one-language policy in Tibet goes beyond education; it is part of a more general assault on Tibetan culture and identity," he added.
"The growing prevalence of the Chinese language in all spheres of Tibetan public life automatically advantages Chinese settlers over Tibetans ..."
Forcing Tibetans to learn Chinese is not at all like wanting immigrants to America to learn English.
Immigrants choose to come to America; once here, it is fair to ask them to learn English, abide by the laws, and assimilate to some extent.
Tibet, however, was invaded by Communist China in the last century, and now its culture faces extinction as a matter of Beijing's policy.
What happens if the Tibetans manage to gain some international recognition for their plight?
There are many differences, but perhaps the most important one in Beijing's favor is that bombing China isn't like bombing Serbia.
One way to avoid the problem is to destroy Tibetan culture, and thus remove the dynamic which works in favor of regaining Tibetan independence from Beijing:
The government in Tibetan capital Lhasa did not answer calls seeking comment.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since People's Liberation Army troops occupied the region in 1950 and has vowed to bring economic prosperity to the poor Himalayan region.
Tibetan activists have warned that tourism and migration by Han Chinese could swamp Buddhist Tibet's distinctive culture.
Tibet is supposed to enjoy a high level of autonomy, which includes protection of and support for its language.
But the Free Tibet Campaign said this was not happening, and quoted an exiled Tibetan teacher, Tsering Dorje, calling for the Tibetan language to be made the region's official language.
Letters with addresses in Tibetan fail to get delivered, and parents are increasingly speaking to their children in Chinese, hoping to give them an edge in a society where their mother tongue is being marginalized, the report said.
"Certainly there are few lucrative job prospects for Tibetans who have not been educated in Chinese," it quoted Tsering Dorje as saying.
"Nor is it possible for a student educated in Tibetan to acquire professional qualifications at college or university."
Neither does this impact only Tibet.
Tibetan is not the only minority language in China rights groups say is threatened.
The exiled Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre says Mongolian usage in Inner Mongolia has also withered, and that many signs written in Mongolian are poorly translated, or just plain wrong.
In Mongolian's case, even the government has weighed in, admitting in an unusually frank report late last year that the language's use had declined, including a huge drop in the number of primary school students being taught Mongolian.
"The government must pay greater attention to these problems, and come up with specific measures as soon as possible," official government Web site www.nmgnews.com.cn reported.
And all of these groups could now agitate for independence.
Meanwhile, where does all this leave Taiwan?
Beijing was obviously a target of this maneuver, as well.
But will it end there? Our support for the mujahideen against the Kremlin certainly went far beyond what we may have imagined. Perhaps our support for Kosovo's independence will, as well.
We conclude with excerpts from Palestinian aide suggests Kosovo a model by MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Writer:
RAMALLAH, West Bank - The Palestinians should follow Kosovo's example and unilaterally declare independence if peace talks with Israel fail, a senior Palestinian official said Wednesday, but the Palestinian president said the proposal was premature.
"Kosovo is not better than Palestine," he added. "If the whole world, the United States, the European Union, the majority of its states, have embraced the independence of Kosovo, why shouldn't this happen with Palestine as well?"
Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian leadership is discussing the proposal. However, Abbas reacted coolly to the idea, saying in a statement that he remained committed to reaching a negotiated peace agreement this year.
"If we are unable to do that ... we will return to our Arab (brothers) to take the appropriate decision," he said.
In other words, the Arab nations should make like NATO, and attack Israel?
Another excerpt farther down:
The Palestinians already have declared independence before, in 1988, but the international community did not recognize the declaration. At that time, there was no territory under Palestinian control.
Of course, now there is territory under Palestinian control, and now there's a precedent.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel rejected the notion of a unilateral declaration of independence.
"Our policy is that we believe that such matters should be resolved in agreement and not by unilateral steps," he said. "That's why we are negotiating now and trying to reach an agreement."
Well, the options Serbia was presented were two: compromise, and go along with what the US-backed KLA terrorists want, or war with the US and NATO.
It will be interesting to see what kind of deal Israel is ultimately offered.
At any time in the past few decades, the Arabs could have allowed their Palestinian Arab brethren to live in Arab territory, and they could have invested in the Palestinian economy instead of investing in jihad -- but that would not have served their purpose, would it?
Now, though, it seems as if the Arab plan of keeping the "Palestinian problem" festering is paying off. The precedent is set for a return to the old days of the Arab World attacking and trying to destroy Israel over a situation that Arab governments have deliberately created and perpetuated -- and if Washington says anything, all the Arabs have to do is point to Kosovo!