30 March 2006

Ex-guerrilla chief nominated as Kosovo PM

AFPWed Mar 1, 4:06 PM ET


A former Kosovo guerilla commander, Agim Ceku, was chosen as his party's candidate for prime minister after Bajram Kosumi resigned under pressure.


Ceku, the Kosovo Protection Corps general, "has shown his leadership qualities during the most difficult time in Kosovo, showing his deep dedication for executing duties," said the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) party.


"The alliance is convinced that Ceku will lead the government of Kosovo with a great dedication towards reaching our joint goal, an independent and sovereign Kosovo," it said in a statement.


The Kosovo political turmoil is believed to be a scramble to fill the void left by late president Ibrahim Rugova, who died of lung cancer in January and whose strong leadership was seen as crucial in the United Nations-mediated talks on the future status of the southern Serbian province, run by the UN since 1999.


Kosumi announced his resignation earlier Wednesday, a little more than a week after historic status talks between Serbian government and its independence-seeking province had opened in Vienna on February 20.


"I resign in the interests of general progress," Kosumi told reporters in the provincial capital Pristina following reports he was under pressure to step down from within his AAK party.


"The government, during its one year of work, has achieved a lot of success, the biggest being the start of negotiations," he added, referring to the talks on the future status of Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanians are seeking independence from Serbia.


"As prime minister, I have been working on creating a democratic and independent Kosovo," Kosumi said, reading from a statement after an emergency government session.


The announcement came after a government source told AFP that the prime minister would be forced into relinquishing the role by the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo.


It is not known yet when Kosovo's parliament is to discuss the appointment of a new prime minister, but Ceku's nomination is likely to cause a stir in Belgrade.


He was indicted in 2002 for war crimes committed against minority Serbs when he served in the Croatian army during the war there in 1991-1995, as well as alleged atrocities in Kosovo's 1998-1999 conflict.


The Serbian indictments are unlikely to be brought before court however because he is only wanted by authorities in Belgrade, and not likely to travel there.


Sanda Raskovic Ivic, Belgrade's top official in charge of Kosovo, said the latest turmoil in Kosovo could be seen as a "radicalization of the political scene."


"The proposal for Ceku to take up such important political role is a sign that the Albanian side has become very nervous and began a process of a radicalization," Raskovic Ivic said in Belgrade.


But Kosovo Serb leader Goran Bogdanovic warned that Ceku's possible election could lead to a "conclusion that Kosovo Albanians are giving up any compromise in the negotiating process."


The chief UN mediator in the Kosovo status talks, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari -- in Pristina for two days of meetings with local officials -- ruled out any negative impact on the negotiations.


"It is up to the government how they organize themselves. It's none of my business," Ahtisaari said referring to Kosumi's resignation.


"I don't see that it will have a negative effect on the negotiating process," the veteran UN troubleshooter told journalists after meeting the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team for the talks.


Kosumi's resignations was followed by the decision of the ruling Kosovo Democratic League party (LDK) to dismiss parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci, said senior party official Eqerem Kryezi.


A report in the local daily, Express, said earlier that the changes would be affected because of the government's failure to show "the necessary efficiency in carrying out duties".


Kosumi took up the post of prime minister after his predecessor, former guerrilla leader Ramush Haradinaj, was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in March last year.


A former Albanian language professor and journalist, Kosumi was one of the organisers of the first Albanian students' protests in Kosovo in 1981 and was later arrested by the then communist regime and sent to prison for 10 years.


Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since mid-1999, when the alliance's bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Serbian forces against separatist Albanian rebels.