Talks to bolster Kosovo's ruling coalition collapse

PRISTINA Mon Feb 4, 2013 12:39pm EST

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PRISTINA (Reuters) - Negotiations to shore up Kosovo's shaky coalition government by enlisting the support of a former guerilla commander have broken down, officials said on Monday, raising the prospect of a snap election.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who tried to bring former premier Ramush Haradinaj and his Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) in to his coalition government to bolster his slim majority in parliament, insisted the coalition remained stable.

"The current coalition is very stable and effective and will continue to do its job," Thaci told journalists in Pristina.

"Today we had a very friendly meeting with Haradinaj and we agreed to work together on the issues with common national interest while other steps will be taken under new political conditions and circumstances."

Neither side gave reasons for the failure of the talks.

Haradinaj, acquitted in December of war crimes by a United Nations court in The Hague, had wanted to replace Thaci as prime minister in exchange for the support of his AAK party's 12 deputies in parliament.

"Having assessed the current political situation in Kosovo, there was no agreement that would allow (Thaci's Democratic Party) PDK and AAK to co-govern under the current circumstances," Haradinaj's AAK said in a statement.

EARLY VOTE TIPPED

Majority Albanian Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, but the impoverished country of 1.7 million people still struggles with instability and weak governance.

Thaci is currently involved in European Union-mediated talks with Serbia, with the West pushing the two to establish functional, neighborly relations. Serbia says it will never recognize Kosovo as a state.

With Thaci's party and the ruling coalition increasingly divided over policy and personnel, Kosovo daily Zeri quoted a government official as saying an election was possible by the summer.

"There's an appetite even with Thaci to have early parliamentary elections this year," an unnamed senior government official told the newspaper.

Elections are not due until end-2014, but analysts say it is unclear whether the coalition can survive until then.

Haradinaj was cleared in December for a second time at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges stemming from his role in a 1998-99 guerrilla insurgency against Serb forces.

NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians from Kosovo by Serb forces and the territory became a ward of the United Nations. It has now been recognized by more than 90 countries.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Sophie Hares)

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