Rugova claims victory in Kosovo elections


Moderate ethnic Albanian nationalist Mr Ibrahim Rugova today claimed victory for his party in general elections in Kosovo, and immediately issued a new call for independence for the UN-administered Yugoslav province.

"We insist that the independence of Kosovo is recognised as soon as possible, which will calm this part of Europe and the world," Mr Rugova told a news conference one day after the elections for a 120-member parliament.

"After yesterday's elections, we have proved that the citizens of Kosovo deserve independence."

Officials of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which will remain the ultimate authority in the predominantly ethnic Albanian province, have emphasised that the new assembly will never be allowed to declare independence for Kosovo from Yugoslavia, a fear of the minority Serb community.

Mr Rugova who led a campaign of passive resistance against the regime of former Yugoslav president Mr Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, promised to work for the "real integration" of minorities, including Serbs, into society in the bitterly divided province.

"The Serbs and the other minorities will be integrated into Kosovo on the economic, social and institutional levels," he said. "We will have a multi-ethnic society."

He said his Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) won the election "with approximately 70 per cent of the vote." The LDK figure from was far more than the 45 per cent share predicted by an exit poll.

Mr Rugova, a French-educated writer and professor of Albanian literature, is widely tipped to be elected president of Kosovo by the new parliament, which is supposed to meet within 30 days of the election.

The president is to nominate a prime minister, who in turn will form a government for Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

The election was the result of a UN Security Council resolution in June 1999 that authorized "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo, and the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR.

The resolution followed an 11-week NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia that forced Milosevic to end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in the province.