Kosovo premier promises security for minorities

Other News Materials 15 February 2008 20:36 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci remained mum Friday about when his breakaway province would declare its independence from Serbia, but pledged to protect the rights of all minorities, especially the Serb community in the Albanian-majority province.

Thaci did not give an exact date for when Kosovo would proclaim independence, though the buzz around diplomatic circles in Pristina points to Sunday as the date.

The Kosovo parliament met on Friday to discuss measures on how to cut the time-length for adopting laws called for by the United Nations' plan for internationally-supervised independence.

The plan - presented in early 2007 by Finnish diplomat Martti Ahtisaari, who served as the UN's envoy to Kosovo - calls for some 40 laws to be adopted before independence is declared.

The Ahtisaari plan is supported by the United Nations and a majority of the members of the European Union.

Thaci said that because of this, Kosovo's parliament would be working throughout the weekend.

Serbia stated on Thursday that it would "annul" any declaration of independence by Kosovo, calling the act a violation of international law and the creation of a "puppet state" which illegally infringes on Serbia's territorial integrity.

While Kosovo looks for ways to seal its independence deal, many Kosovo Serbs fear being attacked and driven from their homes once Kosovo, where 90 per cent of the inhabitants are ethnic Albanians, declares independence from Serbia.

At the press conference Thaci promised a "better future" for all of the people of Kosovo, Serbs in particular.

There are some 50,000 ethnic Serbs living in enclaves in the northern part of Kosovo who fear a repeat of 2004 riots in which 19 people were killed, despite the claims of NATO peacekeepers that the security situation is under control.

A NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ended bloodshed between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian military forces, pushing Serbian troops out of the province and making Kosovo a virtual protectorate of the UN with a NATO peacekeeping force of some 16,000 troops.

Some 200,000 Serbs fled Kosovo once the UN assumed control. Few have returned to their homes since.