PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo celebrated the fifth anniversary of their declaration of independence from Serbia with a parade of police and armed forces in the main square of the capital Sunday.
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 Kosovo 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 Kosovo's independence.
Thousands of people flooded the capital, Pristina, to join the festivities, which were accompanied by traditional music.
"We have made some progress, but not the way we hoped," 65-year-old resident Ilaz Rama said. "The main thing is that we are free now."
Nearly 100 nations have recognized Kosovo's independence, but Serbia claims the territory as its own. The European Union is currently mediating talks between the two former foes.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former rebel who fought against Serbia, said the country is seeking EU membership, but warned the goal was still distant.
"The Republic of Kosovo is on the right path to the European Union, but we still need to work and transform Kosovo 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 Kosovo's failure to fight organized crime and corruption. The report was drafted to list what Kosovo needs in order to have visa requirements wavered when traveling into the EU zone. But it also focuses on the need to implement the rule of law.
"I don't think it was a surprise to Kosovo," Samuel Zbogar, the top EU official in Kosovo, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. "We know there are issues with the rule of law, we know there are issues with corruption, we know that there are still not all the laws in place and we know that the laws are not being implemented."