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Kosovo promises protection for minorities

  • Story Highlights
  • Kosovo, a Serbian province, expected to declare independence this weekend
  • Kosovo prime minister says minorities will have role, protection in new state
  • Serbia and its ally Russia say they will oppose any independence decree
  • U.S., EU are expected to recognize independent Kosovo
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(CNN) -- Kosovo's prime minister vowed Friday that the rights of minorities will be protected after the province declares independence, but stopped short of naming a date for the announcement.

A declaration of independence is widely expected within days and Hashim Thaci assured minority groups -- especially its Serbs -- that they would have a role in society and government after independence.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia under U.N. control, and its majority ethnic Albanian population want independence; the minority Serbs generally want to stay part of Serbia.

"We aim to build in Kosovo -- it being a country that can accommodate all the citizens of Kosovo -- a country of equal opportunities and of the most affirmative (action) possible for the minorities, primarily the Serbs," Thaci said in Kosovo's capital of Pristina.

Thaci said he was establishing a new government office for minorities. "Not a single citizen of the new independent Kosovo will feel discriminated against or set aside," he said.

As Thaci spoke of independence, Serbia's prime minister called for unity and promised to reject any attempt by Kosovo to break away.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica spoke at a ceremony marking Serbia's National Day, which commemorates the birth of the Serbian state.

"All of our state institutions and citizens should be united today," Kostunica told the crowd in Orasac, site of the first Serbian uprising against the Turks in 1804.

"There should be no differences between us. This is why, as you know, the government of Serbia reached the historic decision yesterday to annul, ahead of time and for all time, the declaration of a fake state on Serbian territory."

Moves by Kosovo towards independence accelerated late last year after U.N.-organized talks to sort out the province's final status broke down and Thaci came to power. He made declaring independence his priority.

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Both the European Union and the United States fully back independence for Kosovo, but Russia -- Serbia's historic ally -- does not. Russia has promised to block any recognition of an independent Kosovo at the United Nations.

An emergency meeting at the United Nations on Thursday failed to resolve the Kosovo question, with the U.S. deputy ambassador declaring the Security Council "blocked."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated Thursday that Moscow may change its policy toward two breakaway regions in the former Soviet republic of Georgia if the West recognizes Kosovo's independence.

Lavrov was speaking about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions which have enjoyed a degree of autonomy since pro-Western Georgia declared independence.

Any move by Kosovo, Lavrov said, "might undermine the established rules and ethics of inter-state relations."

The presidents of both Georgian regions told Russia's Interfax news agency Friday that they have worked out a plan for themselves once Kosovo makes a declaration, though they did not give details.

"We have been watching the Kosovo situation very closely and we will announce our further steps if Kosovo declares its independence," Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh told Interfax.


Kosovo has been under U.N. control since shortly after NATO warplanes forced out Serbian forces in 1999. NATO acted after Serbian forces repressed an uprising of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo with a brutal campaign that spawned reports of ethnic cleansing and sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of refugees.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has promised his country will refrain from using force against Kosovo after independence, though he has warned that Serbia will take punitive diplomatic, political, and economic measures against the province. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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