PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Friday about 100 countries were ready to recognize the province’s independence from Serbia, which political sources say could be declared on Feb 17.
“We have confirmation by around 100 countries that they are ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence immediately after we declare it. We will have a powerful and massive recognition,” Thaci told a news conference.
He was speaking after a regular weekly meeting with Joachim Ruecker, head of the Kosovo mission of the United Nations which has administered the territory since NATO expelled Serbian forces in 1999.
Thaci did not name any countries or specify when he plans to declare independence — which has been a closely guarded secret.
The prime minister, a former guerrilla commander in the 1998-99 insurgency which triggered Western intervention with the stated aim of halting Serbian ethnic cleansing, has made clear the timing will be carefully coordinated with Western powers.
Latest reports in Kosovo media say parliament will meet on the weekend of Feb 16-17 with the announcement on the Sunday, which coincides with what political sources tell Reuters.
The United States and most of the 27-member European Union back self-determination for Kosovo and its 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority. But Russia, allied with Serbia against Kosovo’s secession, has blocked an independence resolution in the U.N. Security Council.
In Belgrade, Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic said Serbia is “getting more and more relevant information that Thaci will illegally declare unilateral independence on Sunday, February 17”.
Samardzic’s statement was made after talks with EU representative Stefan Lehne, an envoy of foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, who was in Belgrade to discuss a political crisis over Serb nationalist demands to reject any deal with the EU.
The European Union, which plans to take over supervision of Kosovo from the United Nations, is due to hold a meeting of foreign ministers on Feb 18 and is expected to formally authorize the despatch of a police and judicial mission.
Peter Feith, a veteran Dutch diplomat, is due to become the “International Civilian Representative” and special EU representative, with a mandate until the end of February, 2009.
French army general Yves de Kermabon has been tipped to head the police contingent, and British diplomat David Slynn, as Feith’s deputy, would run the mission’s least welcome outpost, in the Serb-dominated Mitrovica region of north Kosovo.
Preparations for the “EULEX” mission by a team led by British diplomat Roy Reeve have been under way for some time in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. It will assume its supervisory role at the end of a 120-day transition from U.N. administration.
“There is no legal basis for the EU mission,” Serbia’s President Boris Tadic said this week. “Such a mission can only be approved by the United Nations Security Council.”
Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Shaban Buza; Editing by Philippa Fletcher