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News / Nation & World

Kosovo celebrates 25th anniversary of the withdrawal of Serbian forces after NATO bombing

Published: June 10, 2024, 8:21am

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo on Monday celebrated the 25th anniversary of the withdrawal of Serbian forces following a 78-day NATO bombing campaign, which opened the way for its independence nine years later.

Ethnic Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army fought a 1998-1999 war with Serbian forces in what was then the province of Kosovo. About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died and about 1 million were deported until the NATO bombing resulted in the Serbian withdrawal and the establishment of an international force known as Kosovo Force, or KFOR.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which Belgrade doesn’t recognize.

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in office at the time, took part in a special parliamentary session in the capital, Pristina, to celebrate the anniversary. Former Italian Premier Massimo D’Alema and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama participated in other ceremonies.

“The fight for Kosovo was not only for Kosovo but for all of us, including my own country, who believe that freedom and justice are worth standing up for and if necessary, fighting for,” Blair said in a speech. “Had we allowed Kosovo and its people to continue to be brutalized, their rights stripped from them, their futures stolen, our own future in countries like mine would have been diminished.”

Kosovo-Serbia ties remain tense and the 13-year-long normalization talks facilitated by the European Union have failed to make progress, especially following a shootout last September between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead. NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers have increased their numbers and equipment along the Kosovo-Serbia border.

The EU and the United States are pressing both sides to implement agreements that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti reached in February and March last year.

Serbia’s and Kosovo’s chances of joining the EU one day are jeopardized by their refusal to compromise, according to the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Follow Llazar Semini at https://x.com/lsemini