The Associated Press
PRISHTINA, Kosova – Ethnic Albanians in Kosova celebrated the fifth anniversary of their declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday with a parade of police and armed forces in the main square of the capital.
It’s the first time such forces have been used in a parade since the end of the 1998-99 war with Serbia.
The country’s lightly armed Kosova Security Force paraded in armored vehicles alongside firefighters and special police units wearing masks to conceal their identities. The NATO-trained force has 2,500 members and wants to become an army, but alliance members such as Greece and Spain oppose that because they reject Kosova’s independence.
Thousands of people flooded the capital, Prishtina, to join the festivities, which were accompanied by traditional music.
“We have made some progress, but not the way we hoped,” resident Ilaz Rama, 65, said. “The main thing is that we are free now.”
Nearly 100 nations have recognized Kosova’s independence, but Serbia claims the territory as its own. The European Union is currently mediating talks between the two.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former rebel who fought against Serbia, said the country was seeking EU membership, but he warned the goal was still distant.
“The Republic of Kosova is on the right path to the European Union, but we still need to work and transform Kosova into a developed European state,” he said minutes before the parade started.
The celebrations come just days after the EU published a scathing report highlighting Kosova’s failure to fight organized crime and corruption. The report was drafted to list what Kosova needs in order to have visa requirements waived when traveling into the EU zone. But the report also focuses on the need to implement the rule of law.