Monday, December 06, 2004

Kosovo New PM Ramush Haradinaj Takes Office Despite Serbian Objections

The new prime minister of Serbia's U.N.-run province of Kosovo, ethnic Albanian former rebel leader Ramush Haradinaj, took office on Monday despite objections of the Serbian government, Serbian state broadcaster RTS said on Monday.

"Haradinaj took office from the previous premier Bajram Rexhepi despite the demands of Serbia to the United Nations Mission in Kosovo to cancel the election," RTS said.

Haradinaj, 36, was elected premier on Friday by the Kosovo assembly. The next day Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica asked the chief of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo Soren Jessen-Petersen to scrap the vote.

Jessen-Petersen congratulated Haradinaj for getting the top job, but Kostunica said the election of the former senior commander of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army seriously threatened the future talks on the final status of the southern Serbian province.

Talks about the status of the U.N.-run southern Serbian province of Kosovo are expected to start next year but before the issue is taken up, Kosovo should meet a list of U.N. standards, including on human rights, law and order, and security.

Haradinaj was questioned twice by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague over his actions as a senior rebel commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the 1998-99 war against Serb forces in Kosovo. The Serbian government considers him a terrorist.

Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) formed a coalition cabinet with the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) of President Ibrahim Rugova, who was re-elected for a second three-year term by the Kosovo 120-seat assembly.

Rugova's party got the most votes in the elections for Kosovo assembly held on October 23 but failed to win absolute majority. LDK got 47 seats in the 120-seat parliament of the province and Haradinaj's AAK won nine.

Kosovo is still a province of Serbia and Montenegro, the former rump Yugoslavia. It has been under U.N. administration since NATO air strikes in 1999 forced ex-Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic to halt suppression of separatist ethnic Albanians.

Last month's elections, the second since 1999, were seen as a key test of UN efforts to heal the rifts between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which has pressed for independence, and the Serb minority. Kosovo's Serbs want the province to remain part of Serbia and Montenegro.

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