CEOL - New power-sharing body agreed for Kosovo

PRISTINA, Dec 15, 1999 -- (Reuters) International authorities in Kosovo and local political leaders signed a long-awaited agreement on Wednesday to form a power-sharing council to bring Kosovars into the administration of the war ravaged province.

A new Interim Administrative Council, including seats for three ethnic Albanians, one Serb and four members of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, was expected to begin its first meeting later in the morning. U.N. mission chief Bernard Kouchner is to be its executive and legislative chairman with a right of veto on all decisions.

The council's two "co-presidents" are Hashim Thaci - leader of a self-styled ethnic Albanian "provisional government", and Kouchner's deputy, American Jock Covey. The co-presidency will be rotated among Kosovan council members every two months.

The formula guarantees that international officials maintain a tight grip on decision-making. Under the deal provisional authorities led by Thaci and other ethnic Albanian leaders will be wound up as the new administration gradually takes over their roles.

Also in the new council is Kosovo Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, whose rivalry with Thaci has hampered efforts to form a united body in the six months since NATO forces occupied Kosovo, Serb forces withdrew and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees streamed back in.

"This is a very important day and it could be historic," Kouchner said at a signing ceremony attended by ethnic Albanian members of the new body Thaci, Rugova and Rexhep Qosja as well as the international members.

No representative has yet been put forward from Kosovo's dwindling Serb minority, many of whom have fled the province in the face of attacks by ethnic Albanians.

International authorities have faced criticism that they have been slow to restore law and order in the province, where a mainly-expatriate police force with little local knowledge has struggled to fight a wave of revenge killings and crime.

The Interim Administrative Council will supervise 14 administrative departments. Their writ does not run to defense, which is the responsibility of the 50,000-strong NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

Under Wednesday's agreement, the U.N.-Kosovan "transitional council", a purely consultative body, will continue to exist and be expanded into a larger assembly.

International authorities expect to hold local elections next year, but any elections to a Kosovo-wide body raise delicate issues of Kosovo's future status. Most Kosovo Albanians want to see such an elected body lead the province to full independence from Yugoslavia, a move so far opposed by foreign powers.

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