First passports issued in Kosovo

31/07/2008

Kosovo authorities issued the first passport of their fledgling state on Wednesday (July 30th). Bearers of these passports can travel to countries that recognise Kosovo's independence, plus Macedonia and Montenegro.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 31/07/08

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Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (right) gives the first Kosovo passport to ethnic Albanian Teuta Begolli on Wednesday (July 30th). [Laura Hasani]

A young Kosovo woman on Wednesday (July 30th) received the first passport issued by the fledgling government in Pristina. Teuta Begolli got the first of about 400 Kosovo passports that the government will issue this week, replacing UNMIK travel documents. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci delivered it on Wednesday, saying Kosovo residents now have "their own identity".

"This is a new phase for Kosovo," he said, calling July 30th a historic day for the people of Kosovo and completion of the process of state-building.

A large number of Kosovo citizens have applied for the passports, and the process is expected to continue at high speed.

Authorities unveiled the passport on March 14th. The new passports, which come in four classes, all bear the coat of arms of the Republic of Kosovo. They contain information in Albanian, English and Serbian. Giesecke & Devrient GmbH of Leipzig, Germany, is manufacturing them.

Kosovo citizens with these documents can now travel to states that recognise Kosovo's independence, plus Macedonia and Montenegro.

UNMIK, which administered Kosovo for almost ten years, said last week it had decided to stop issuing the travel documents Kosovo citizens had relied on since the end of the war. The Kosovo passport is valid for ten years for those over the age of 18. For children, the validity period is shorter. The passport adheres to European security standards.

Ylber, a 40-year-old resident of Pristina, says having a Kosovo passport means much to him. "It's like having a real, concrete sign of Kosovo's independence and statehood," he says.

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Kosovo Albanians have had difficulty travelling abroad since the end of the war, when Serb forces expelled almost a million Albanians from Kosovo and stripped them of their identity papers. Kosovo Serbs did not exchange their Serbian passports for UNMIK travel documents, and Kosovo's law permits them to have dual citizenship.

Belgrade has made clear it will not accept the new Kosovo passports. Serbia still considers Kosovo its own territory.

The Serbian interior ministry will not recognise Kosovo stamps on the passports of people traveling to Serbia from Kosovo. Serbian border officials must draw a line across such a stamp in foreigners' passports if they try to travel from Kosovo to Serbia, Belgrade Beta news agency reported. They also must place a Republic of Serbia border stamp alongside the crossed-out Kosovo stamp.

Kosovo has obtained diplomatic recognition from 43 countries since declaring independence on February 17th. It is seeking to add to that number.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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