Contest for new flag, anthem takes place in Kosovo

Despite continuing international disagreement whether to give Kosovo independence, province’s government on Wednesday launched a contest for a new flag and national anthem.

The government said it was reacting to a U.N. recommendation that Kosovo should be given internationally supervised independence, along with its "own, distinct, national symbols, including a flag, seal and anthem reflecting its multiethnic character."

"People need to respect (U.N. envoy Martti) Ahtisaari's plan and same time it cannot be anything like other flags or other countries, including neighboring countries," Hajredin Kuci, a member of the symbols committee created by the government, told AP Television News.

Kosovo, a province of 2 million, of whom 90 percent are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the U.N. since mid-1999 when a NATO air war halted a crackdown by Serb forces on independence-seeking ethnic Albanian rebels.

Since then, its ethnic Albanians have used Albania's red flag with a black double-headed eagle. The province's minority Serb communities have used Serbia's blue, white and red flag.

The competition is open to anyone in the province or further afield, and last until June 27, after which a professional committee will select the best three proposals for the flag and for the anthem and submit them to the assembly for a decision.

The criteria for the flag state that it cannot in any way include the eagle, a symbol of neighboring Albania. It should not be primarily the colors of the Serbian, Albanian or any other neighboring flag.

The contest winner in each category will be awarded EUR10,000 (US$13,000), second prize EUR7,000 (US$9,000) and third prize EUR5,000 (US$6,700).

There was no reaction from the Kosovo Serb community or from Serbia.

Ahtisaari's proposal has been welcomed by the ethnic Albanians, but vehemently rejected by the Serb minority, Serbia and Russia, as Moscow contends independence would set a dangerous precedent for the world's other breakaway regions.

U.S. President George W. Bush said during his recent visit to Europe that Kosovo should gain independence, which has exacerbated tensions with Russia.

The Security Council has not set a date to take up the resolution that would endorse Ahtisaari's recommendation, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "We should not waste too much time in making (a) decision."

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