Kosovo has marked the 11th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Serbia with a parade featuring members of the country’s security forces.
The February 17 celebrations come weeks after parliament voted to expand the competences of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and creating a legal base for its transformation into a national army.
Thousands of people watched KSF members carrying light weaponry in central Pristina, which was decorated with national, Albanian, and U.S. flags.
Addressing the crowd, President Hashim Thaci described the force as a "professional, multiethnic army serving and protecting the youngest state in Europe."
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Serbia does not.
In 2013, Pristina and Belgrade committed to a European Union-sponsored dialogue meant to resolve all unsolved issues but little progress has been made.
Tensions rose between the two Balkan neighbors in December when Kosovo's lawmakers agreed to convert the country's 2,500-member KSF into a regular army with some 5,000 personnel and more substantial weaponry.
Thaci on February 17 said that the force was “ready to contribute to peace in the region, but also in the world.”
“The decision to establish the Kosovo Army was fair, legitimate, and an historic message. You, the Kosovo Army, are the pride of our state," he added.
The United States has backed the Kosovar government’s 10-year transition plan to transform its lightly armed security force into a full-fledged army, while NATO called on the country not to proceed with the move, calling it “ill-timed.”
The European Union said the mandate of the KSF should only be changed through an “inclusive and gradual process.”