03 April 2006

Ex-soldier and rebel chief becomes Kosovo's new premier

DPA, Mar 10, 2006, 19:00 GMT


Pristina - Agim Ceku, a former Yugoslav and Croatian army officer, and ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander, on Friday became the new prime minister of Serbia\'s breakaway Kosovo province.


\'The newly elected government that I will lead will focus on further strengthening institutions, employment and improving the economic position of all citizens of Kosovo,\' Ceku said upon his election, giving the statement both in Albanian and Serbian.


\'We will work to create a bridge of trust between the communities in Kosovo... The time of hatred, discrimination and suffering of all citizens of Kosovo should belong to the past. The time of inter- ethnic reconciliation, integration and overall prosperity has come,\' he went on to say.


Nominated as a non-partisan by the ruling coalition of the League for a Democratic Kosovo (LDK) and the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), Ceku was backed by 65 of the 120 votes in the Kosovo assembly, while five deputies abstained from voting.


The coalition led by LDK and AAK holds a total of 66 seats.


The parliament earlier also elected a new speaker, a top LDK official, Kole Berisha, after the party dismissed Nexhat Daci from the post.


The UN administrator in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, congratulated the Kosovo assembly for upholding democratic values in challenging circumstances.


\'I also welcome Prime Minister Ceku\'s pledge to hard work and readiness to address any future shortcomings in the performance of the government,\' said Jessen-Petersen\'s press release.


Ceku emerged as the candidate after his predecessor, Bajram Kosumi, surprisingly resigned last week amid pressure from his own AAK.


Kosumi\'s cabinet, however, remained almost unchanged, as only deputy prime minister Adem Salihaj was relieved of his duties, while Fatmir Rexhepi of the LDK was voted to head the interior ministry and Januz Salihaj of the AAK to head the justice ministry, departments recently introduced by Kosovo\'s UN administration.


Kosovo\'s new deputy prime minister is Lufti Haziri of the LDK, who has also remained in his office of local government minister.


The remaining ministerial offices remain unchanged, five of them going to the LDK - education (Agim Veliu), culture, youth and sport (Astrit Haraqia), public services (Melihate Termkolli), economy and finance (Haki Shatri), transport and communications (Qemajl Ahjmeti).


Members of the AAK hold the departments of spatial planning and environment (Adrian Gjini), trade and industry (Bujar Dugolli), labour and social welfare (Ibrahim Selmanaj), energy and mines (Ethem Ceku).


As before, the representatives of minorities have two ministerial posts, Sadik Idriz heading the health department and Slavisa Petkovic the department of communities and the return of displaced persons.


International officials hope that the appointment of the new cabinet can end the political turmoil that erupted in January with the death of Kosovo\'s president and undisputed leader of the majority Albanians, Ibrahim Rugova.


Kosumi resigned at a delicate time, just days before Pristina and Belgrade were to launch direct talks on the future status of Kosovo, Serbia\'s breakaway province and the scene of a bloody war in 1999.


The Albanians, who make up 90 per cent of the population of Kosovo, want quick independence, while Serbia and the Serb minority in the province want it to remain under Belgrade\'s sovereignty.


Ceku\'s election was opposed by 33 votes, including those from Hashim Thaqi\'s Democratic Party of Kosovo and Veton Surroi\'s ORA, who described the changes as \'cosmetic.\'


A drawn parliamentary debate on Ceku\'s cabinet further exposed a rift between the previously monolithic Albanian leaders, grouped around the common goal of independence.


Kosovo has been under a virtual United Nations and NATO protectorate since NATO ousted Belgrade\'s security forces to end the conflict in mid-1999.


The UN mediator in the status talks, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, this week briefed the Security Council on the talks ahead of the next round in Vienna, on March 17.


The province is also expected to feature on the agenda of the European Union foreign ministers two-day meeting starting in Salzburg on Friday.


EU officials were to be joined there by the Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu and the UN administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen.