Kosovo's prime minister and former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj said Wednesday that his UN-administered Serbian province would gain independence by year-end.
"The only option and possibility to fulfill the wishes of Kosovo people is independence of Kosovo. By the year-end it will be clear, and I believe, accomplished," Haradinaj told the Croatian weekly newspaper Globus in an interview.
Talks over Kosovo status should begin this year under UN auspices. The southern Serbian province became a UN protectorate after NATO intervened to end the 1998-99 war between Serbian forces and separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas
Haradinaj said he was confident that by the middle of this year, Pristina would show considerable improvements on implementing a set of basic democratic standards, which is a prerequisite for status talks.
"For us those standards are not just the only way to open the doors for the final solution of the Kosovo issue but also the only (one) for us... to function as an European society, democratic and tolerant," he said.
Belgrade opposes independence for Kosovo, which is the historic cradle of the Serbian state, and has objected to the appointment of Haradinaj following October elections.
Haradinaj, 35, was a senior commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla movement during the war against Serbian forces. He was recently questioned by UN war crimes investigators.
The international community insists on a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on practical issues before opening of status talks.
The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia held their first face-to-face talks since the Kosovo war in October 2003 but the process was badly undermined by violent anti-Serb riots in the province that left 19 dead and some 900 injured.