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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 14:45 GMT
Kosovo vow as independence looms
Kosovo's PM Hashim Thaci
Mr Thaci said Kosovo was the homeland of all its citizens
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has vowed to protect the rights of all minorities as the province prepares to declare independence from Serbia.

The declaration is widely expected on Sunday, but Mr Thaci refused to set a date at a news conference in Pristina.

The US and most EU states are preparing to recognise Kosovo quickly, but Serbia and Russia strongly oppose the move.

Serbia has threatened to use diplomatic and economic measures against Kosovo, though it has ruled out using force.

"I will never give up fighting for our Kosovo," Serbian President Boris Tadic said as he took the oath of office on Friday, 10 days after being re-elected for a second term.

In Kosovo, there will be security for all citizens. The government is committed to looking forward to the future and overcoming the sad past
Kosovo's PM Hashim Thaci

Separately, the Russian foreign ministry warned on Friday it would have to "take into account" any declaration of independence by Kosovo in regard to its relations with Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow has previously hinted that it could recognise the regions, if the West recognises Kosovo.

EU mission

Speaking to hundreds of reporters in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Mr Thaci pledged that the rights of all communities in the province, including Serbs, would be guaranteed.

map

He said no citizen of an independent Kosovo should feel discriminated against and no-one would be left out.

"In Kosovo, there will be security for all citizens. The government is committed to looking forward to the future and overcoming the sad past.

"I invite all those who want to, to return to their homes and their property, including displaced Serbs living outside Kosovo," Mr Thaci said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch issued a report describing violence against ethnic minorities as a persistent feature of Kosovo's post-war history.

It also expressed concern about violence against women, and the difficulties which face refugees who want to return home.

The United Nations has administered Kosovo since a Nato bombing campaign in 1999 drove out Serb forces accused of persecuting the province's majority ethnic Albanians.

A civilian police and justice mission for Kosovo is expected to be given the go-ahead by EU member states on Monday.

A poster in Pristina which reads Independence
There is a festive mood in Pristina, correspondents say

BBC News website world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says the US and a number of EU countries, including the UK, will recognise Kosovo shortly afterwards.

Kosovo's assembly will make the declaration of independence on Sunday, he says, making clear its acceptance of the limitations on independence outlined in the UN plan drawn up by Martti Ahtisaari.

These include supervision by an international presence; limited armed forces; strong provisions for Serb minority protection; commitment to multi-ethnic democracy; and neither Kosovo nor any part of it will be allowed to join another country.

Celebrate with dignity

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Pristina says there is a festive mood in the capital, with people thronging the streets and flags flying everywhere.

Posters have gone up across Pristina thanking Britain and the US for their support for independence.

"Celebrate with dignity. For a good start. Kosovo welcomes the future," the posters raid.

Tons of fireworks have already arrived from Bulgaria.

The mood among the remaining 100,000-plus Serbs of Kosovo is very different, our correspondent says.

He says there has been no major exodus but some have decided to spend the next few days in Serbia.

distribution of ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Hashim Thaci reaches out to the people of Kosovo



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