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Kosovo ready to proclaim independence

RIA Novosti

14/12/2007 19:55 (Adds comments by Portugal's prime minister in paras 6-7)

ROME/BRUSSELS, December 14 (RIA Novosti) - Kosovo is ready to declare unilateral independence, but will coordinate its moves with the U.S. and the EU, the leader of the province's Democratic Party said on Friday.

Former rebel leader Hashim Thaci, who has vowed to declare independence in Kosovo, won parliamentary elections in the predominantly Albanian province on November 17, which was boycotted by the ethnic Serb population (around 6%).

"Yes, we will proclaim the province's independence, even unilaterally. When? Kosovo is ready [to do that] even today. Tomorrow may be too late. But we will seek to coordinate everything with Washington and Brussels," he told Italy's Corriere della Sera.

Asked about the future of the Serb minority, Thaci vowed to ensure their security: "Kosovo will be a country not only of Albanians, but of all citizens," he said.

At an ongoing summit, the EU leaders said Serbia could be offered an accelerated path towards EU membership. But, Belgrade said earlier it would not trade in Kosovo's independence just to join the EU.

Jose Socrates, the prime minister of Portugal, which currently holds the EU rotating presidency, said that the European Union is not ready to acknowledge Kosovo's unilateral independence.

He also said that EU leaders had agreed to send a civil police mission to Kosovo to replace the UN mission. The EU mission will comprise 1,800 personnel, including 1,400 police officers.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic rejected any such trade off: "It would be an indecent proposal, and European leaders are decent people, they have not made such an offer," he told reporters in Belgrade on Friday, according to Reuters.

At a UN Security Council session on Wednesday, the United States rejected Russia's proposal to continue talks over the future status of Serbia's predominantly Albanian province.

The UN official deadline for an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo ran out Monday, and the province's leaders have said they intend to unilaterally declare independence early in 2008. The United States and leading EU powers have said they will recognize Kosovo's independence when a declaration is made.

However, Russia has warned of a chain reaction if the province breaks away from Serbia, causing other separatist regions, including those in the former Soviet Union, to follow suit.

The Contact Group's troika of mediators - Russia, the United States and the European Union - submitted to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a report on December 10 saying that the parties had failed to reach an agreement after "120 days of intensive negotiations."

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians.

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