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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 09:35 GMT
Profile: Hashim Thaci
Kosovo Albanian leader Hashim Thaci
Hashim Thaci arranged training and supplies for the KLA rebels
Kosovo's new Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is a veteran of the ethnic Albanians' drive to break away from Serbia.

He has promised to steer Kosovo to formal independence in the next few weeks.

His Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) finally managed to win the breakaway province's parliamentary poll in November 2007 with 34% of the vote - after a war and several lost elections.

Mr Thaci has vowed to make the independence declaration "in close co-ordination" with those countries likely to recognise it - the United States and several EU members.

Serbia - supported by Russia - remains implacably opposed to independence for Kosovo, and has threatened unspecified sanctions against anyone who "infringes international law", as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica prefers to put it.

Hashim Thaci was formerly political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the guerrilla group that fought against Serb forces in the late 1990s.

At one stage in 2003 - then a politician fairly close to big international players running the province after Nato had ousted Serb forces from Kosovo - he was briefly detained in Hungary under a warrant issued by Serbia in 1997.

Ejecting Rugova

It was something of a surprise - some would say a harbinger of things to come - when the KLA announced a government of their own in the thick of the war with Serbia, headed by none other than Hashim Thaci.

His cabinet came mainly in opposition to the Albanian independence movement's iconic leader Ibrahim Rugova, who espoused peaceful resistance to Serbia.

It also cemented Mr Thaci's leadership of the KLA. After all, regardless of the secretive nature of the KLA, it was the guerrilla commanders in the theatre of operations who were believed to wield power, not Mr Thaci and his political directorate.

And few people outside Kosovo paid attention anyway. The war was simmering, sometimes raging, when world powers called peace talks in France in February 1999.

Little was known about Mr Thaci outside Kosovo before he was nominated, along with four other KLA members, to join the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team for the peace talks at Rambouillet. But thereafter his tall presence became hard to ignore.

KLA fighters, June 1999
The severity of Serbia's crackdown boosted support for the KLA

The KLA leader, nicknamed "The Serpent", displayed a steely determination to wrest Kosovo Albanians' loyalties away from Rugova.

The first breakthrough came at Rambouillet itself, where Mr Thaci managed to sideline Rugova to become the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team's leader.

The talks at a chateau in France failed when the then Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, rejected the plan to allow a Nato-led implementation force to operate on Serb territory.

Mr Thaci, courted by the US, left France more than happy with the transformation from rebel to accepted politician and went on to put his newly-acquired clout to good effect.

With Serbia continuing to persecute Kosovo Albanians, Nato launched air strikes in March 1999, finally driving Serb forces out of the province. The UN then took over the administration of Kosovo.

If, in his characteristic playful banter, placid Rugova ceded formal authority to Mr Thaci at Rambouillet, he still went on to win election after election in Kosovo and eventually become president, too. Yet it was a United Nations protectorate, not an independent country.

During all the years that followed, Mr Thaci transformed himself further - cutting a respectable figure of composed implacability, breaking ranks with his former commanders as he weeded out political opponents to secure an unchallenged position at the head of his party.

Political analysts were amazed at the palpable change: no fiery rhetoric any more from the left-wing revolutionary, but toned-down messages.

It was then not very surprising that he would reach a power-sharing deal with the successors of his formidable political nemesis after the latest election.

Jeta Xharra, the Kosovo director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, says Mr Thaci has long wanted to be prime minister. The former guerrilla leader "now has the careful, measured manner of a man hardened by political battles and setbacks", she told the BBC News website.

"The long years spent as prime minister-in-waiting have given him a broad experience of what doesn't work, politically. Today he is among Kosovo's most moderate leaders," she said.

"If he fails to lay the foundations for a successful state, no-one will forgive him."

Veteran activist

He was born in 1968 in the Drenica region, stronghold of the ethnic Albanian revolt against Serbia.

He was a student activist in 1989-91, when ethnic Albanians tried to resist Belgrade's abolition of Kosovo's autonomy through peaceful protests.

Soon afterwards he went underground to join the KLA, which was formed in 1993.

During the mid-1990s he also spent time in Switzerland, a centre for radical Albanian emigre circles, where he pursued postgraduate studies in politics.

Mr Thaci has been credited with reorganising the KLA after the setbacks it suffered at the hands of Serbian security forces in 1998.

He was on the KLA's general staff and was its most influential political official.

He had a reputation as a hardliner, but was prepared to be pragmatic at times, according to Gabriel Partos, editor of the analytical newsletter Balkan Insight.



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