Ex-guerrilla Thaci seals Kosovo governing coalition

A03699355.jpgPRISTINA, Serbia – Kosovo’s prime-minister designate Hashim Thaci sealed agreement on Monday on a governing coalition expected to lead the Albanian-majority province to independence from Serbia early this year.

Democratic Party (PDK) leader and former guerrilla fighter Thaci signed a deal with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) after weeks of wrangling over cabinet posts.

Parliament is expected to vote on the “grand coalition” on Wednesday, almost two months after Thaci’s PDK beat the once-dominant LDK of Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu in a November parliamentary election.

Thaci, whose ethnic Albanian guerrilla army fought Serb forces in 1998-99 to end a decade of repression under late Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, has promised to lead Kosovo into a declaration of independence within months.

The 90 percent Albanian majority is counting on the West to overrule opposition from Serbia and Russia and recognize Kosovo, administered by the United Nations since 1999, as the last state to be carved from the former Yugoslavia.

“This is a state-building partnership between two parties committed to cooperate in building an independent, sovereign and democratic state for all its citizens,” Thaci told reporters.

Western diplomats hope a stable PDK-LDK alliance will steer Kosovo through what promises to be a turbulent transition to statehood, after Russia blocked a Western-backed plan for its secession at the U.N. Security Council.

Together the two hold 62 seats in the 120-seat assembly.

The Democratic Party emerged from the Kosovo Liberation Army, whose guerrilla war in the late 1990s eclipsed years of passive resistance under late LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova.

Serbia’s crackdown drew NATO into its first “humanitarian war” to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Serb forces pulled out after 11 weeks of bombing.

Central to Serb history and identity, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO since. The West fears prolonging its limbo would trigger unrest, but almost two years of Serb-Albanian negotiations ended last month in failure.

With Russia certain to veto Kosovo’s secession at the U.N. Security Council, the United States and major EU powers say they will move ahead with a plan for EU-supervised independence without a new U.N. resolution.

Most of the 27 EU members are expected to recognize Kosovo, and the bloc plans to take control of policing and justice.

The West is urging Kosovo Albanians to wait until after a presidential election in Serbia on January 20 to declare independence, to avoid boosting the ultranationalist vote.

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