(Adds Kosovo call for defence force, paragraphs 7-11, 20-22)
PRISTINA, Serbia and Montenegro, May 11 (Reuters) - The U.N. governor of Kosovo says the province has made real progress on standards set by major powers, giving a boost to the Albanian majority's bid for independence from Serbia this year.
The positive assessment is contained in Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen's upcoming report to the United Nations Security Council, to be presented in late June but seen by Reuters on Thursday.
His overview of the situation in Serbia's southern province, run by the world body since 1999, says the Albanian leadership has "revitalised" efforts to improve the lives of Serbs and other ethnic minorities and create a functioning democracy.
"As a result of this intensified effort it is now possible to discern progress across the broad front on Standards implementation," says the report.
If the provisional institutions "maintain their present level of commitment we should witness substantial further achievement in the coming months", it adds.
The report will be welcomed by Western powers who say Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority must enforce the rule of law and protect the rights of the remaining 100,000 Serbs to improve its chances of clinching independence.
Reflecting a growing confidence independence is near, the Kosovo Albanians put in a request to a visiting NATO delegation for their own defence force once a deal is reached.
President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku, a former guerrilla commander, made the sensitive request to the delegation led by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
There was no immediate response from NATO, which with the U.N. has shied away from the issue of a future Kosovo army.
But Scheffer, on a one-day visit to the province, said the alliance's 17,000 troops would keep the peace and warned extremists against testing their resolve.
"The spoilers will not have a chance," he told reporters.
Direct talks between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians began in February in Vienna, seven years after NATO bombs drove out Serb forces to halt the ethnic cleansing employed by Belgrade in a two-year war with ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
U.N. chief mediator Martti Ahtisaari expects to finish preliminary discussion of technical issues such as local self-government and minority rights by July, before talks on actual "final status" begin.
Belgrade has shown few signs yet that it will consent to Kosovo's independence. It talks of declaring Kosovo "occupied territory" if independence is imposed by the major powers, a step that could create a Cyprus-style division in the Balkans.
Diplomats say the West will push for a form of independence under European Union and NATO supervision, within the year.
But they fear for the future of the Kosovo Serbs, a ghettoised minority targeted by sporadic violence. Around half the Serb population fled revenge attacks after the war.
The governor's report cites police figures suggesting ethnically motivated crime had declined compared to 2005.
"The improving picture was offset by a small number of high-profile cases, and despite the statistical improvement members of minority communities continue to express fears about their freedom of movement," it says.
Former Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi resigned in March following sustained international criticism of his performance in meeting the standards.
Ceku, his successor, pressed for a Kosovo defence force -- an idea that would outrage Serbia -- at the talks with Scheffer.
"We count on the support of NATO's forces for the creation of a Kosovo defence force that will contribute to internal and regional stability," he said in a statement.
The nearest Kosovo has to an army is the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil emergency force created from the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.
(Additional reporting by Shaban Buza)