(DPA - 10/01/08; AFP, AP, Reuters, DPA, CNN, BBC - 09/01/08; British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Wikipedia)
Hashim Thaci was sworn in as Kosovo's prime minister on January 9th, 2008, nearly two months after his Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) won the November 17th parliamentary elections, marking its first victory at the polls since the 1998-1999 conflict in the province. He replaced Agim Ceku in the post. Thaci vowed to quickly steer Kosovo to independence from Serbia and to ensure that the rights of all minority groups living in the province will be respected.
"We are preparing to make Kosovo an independent and sovereign state early this year," Thaci said after the province's 120-seat assembly voted 85-22 to approve a coalition government between his PDK and the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). "We will turn our dream, and our right, into a reality."
Thaci was born on April 24th 1968, in Brocna, in Kosovo's central region of Drenica, stronghold of the ethnic Albanian armed resistance against Serb authorities.
He studied history at the Pristina University and was a student activist in 1989-1991 -- a period marked by peaceful Kosovo Albanian protests against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic regime's move to abolish the province's autonomy. An ardent supporter of Kosovo's secession from Serbia, soon afterwards he went underground to join the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was formed in 1993. In the mid-1990s, he emigrated to Switzerland, where he pursued postgraduate studies in politics and joined the Albanian political network.
In 1996-1997, the KLA staged a series of attacks against Serbian leaders, police and Kosovo Albanian collaborators with the Serbs. In early 1998, the Milosevic regime began a major crackdown against the insurgents, which eventually grew into a full-blown war. Known by his nom de guerre "the Serpent", Thaci became the militant group's political leader.
He was one of the KLA representatives in the Kosovo Albanian delegation at the internationally-brokered peace talks held in Rambouillet, France, in February-March 1999. Thaci managed to sideline Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo's late iconic leader and a proponent of peaceful resistance to Serbia, to become the leader of the province's negotiating team and an accepted politician. After the Serbian representatives rejected the proposed deal, signed by the Kosovo Albanian side, the talks collapsed on March 19th 1999.
Five days later, NATO launched air strikes, which were called off on June 10th that year following Belgrade's acceptance of a political deal, including an immediate end to violence and a rapid withdrawal of its military, police and paramilitary forces. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 was adopted the same day, placing Kosovo under UNMIK administration and endorsing the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR).
Following the end of the conflict and the dissolution of the KLA, Thaci established the People's Democratic Party of Kosovo. The party held its first convention in May 2000, electing the former rebel leader party president and shortening its name to the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK).
In the 2001 parliamentary elections, Thaci's party came in a distant second after Rugova's LDK, winning 26 seats. It joined the LDK-led government, in which the prime minister post was given to Bajram Rexhepi of the PDK. Although the 2004 elections allowed Thaci's party to increase its parliamentary representation to 30 seats, it was again well behind the LDK and chose not to join the new government, but stay in opposition instead.
When he was approved as Kosovo's fifth prime minister on January 9th, 2008, Thaci indicated that a declaration of independence was "weeks" away, but would not be adopted without the approval of the United States and key EU powers.
Pledging to serve as "the prime minister of all citizens of Kosovo", Thaci switched from his native Albanian to Serbian at one point in his speech to promise the Kosovo Serbs, who oppose independence, that his government "will pay a special attention to minority rights".
"We will give our best to create a climate of tolerance in relations with minorities, especially with the Serb community," the prime minister said.