Pristina, 4 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Hashim Thaci, the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) and prime minister of the self-declared interim government for Kosovo, says in an interview with RFE/RL that his organization is cooperating with the UN administration (UNMIK) in Kosovo. He downplayed tensions with the UN and says institution building is the next big step facing the international community.
He spoke with RFE/RL at UCK offices in Pristina. A transcript of the interview follows:
Thaci was first asked about his impressions of the UN's administration in Kosovo (UNMIK) headed by Bernard Kouchner and about concerns stated by some that there is a power vacuum in Kosovo.
"We are cooperating with Mr. Kouchner. Our relationship is good. We are supplementing and helping each other, and I hope that soon we can realize the building of institutions in Kosovo."
Thaci was then asked to comment on reports of tension between the UCK and the UN administration in Kosovo. In his answer, Thaci emphasizes that the international community is fortunate to have had the UCK to begin the process of building institutions in Kosovo.
"It's good that Mr. Kouchner found a good base of institutional organization in Kosovo [provided by] the interim government in Kosovo. This base might be used in advancing the structures and integrating the [Democratic League of Kosovo] LDK."
Thaci was asked about a recent quote from a member of his interim government, the deputy minister of reconstruction, Muje Gjonbalaj, who said the interim government and UNMIK would govern Kosovo until elections.
"Of course, Kosovo belongs to Kosovars. But we respect the decisions of the international community and we are helping each other. The interim government of Kosovo will function until the next free elections. We will cooperate with the OSCE and UNMIK."
The UN has stated repeatedly that UNMIK is the governing authority in Kosovo. Thaci was asked whether he recognizes the UN as the authority in the province.
"We did recognize and we are recognizing UN authorities here. I hope that this cooperation will be deeper and that the international community is (also) recognizing the strong role of the UCK."
As a follow-up question, Thaci was asked whether he recognizes UNMIK as the leading authority in Kosovo. His reply suggests strongly that he does not.
"The UCK recognizes the Defense Ministry and the interim government of Kosovo. Toward them, it has obligations and it respects their political decisions. The interim government of Kosovo is working with and organizing authorities everywhere in Kosovo. It is helping to make an advancement of [governing] structures, of course, in cooperation with UNMIK."
Thaci was asked whether he blames the UN for the slow process of establishing an effective authority in Kosovo. In his response, Thaci says the UCK is also partly to blame. He notes also that his organization is working with other political groups as part of the interim government.
"We cannot blame UNMIK for this slow establishment of power. We have had and we still have weakness. However, the power in the districts was organized before. And this organization we made wider by including other mechanisms and structures from other parties. In local authorities, there are not only UCK authorities, but also [other] main political groups which are also participating in the interim government [for all of] Kosovo."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has responsibility for organizing elections in Kosovo. Thaci was asked to respond to statements made by OSCE officials to RFE/RL that elections will likely not be possible for at least 18 months and possibly not for two years.
"We really need to build a free life, to build a real democracy and to build democratic institutions, which can be created only after the holding of free, pluralistic elections. I consider that these elections should be held as soon as possible."
Thaci was asked when he believes the elections should be held.
"The beginning of next spring or in the middle of next spring."
Thaci was asked whether he has had contact with LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova since Rugova returned to Kosovo last week and whether any meeting is planned. Rugova and Thaci are widely viewed as competitors for power in Kosovo, with Thaci having usurped Rugova's leading role among the province's ethnic Albanian majority.
"I am waiting to meet with him and I would welcome this meeting and I believe that Rugova can help Kosovo. I respect his return and I think that his presence can help in the work of democratization and in building unity."
Thaci was asked about a possible meeting with the Prime Minister of the self-declared government in exile, Bujar Bukoshi. Bukoshi is a member of the LDK and was appointed by Rugova in 1992.
"Bukoshi belongs to one group of the LDK. Bukoshi and Rugova -- they are LDK. And I hope that they will find the civil, national, and political courage to meet with and talk with us to coordinate duties."
Thaci was asked whether the funds held by Bukoshi's government, believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars, have been made available to Thaci's interim government.
"We do not have any information about what is happening with that fund. That fund is controlled only by [Bukoshi] or by a small group of people."
UNMIK and Western leaders have recently been outspoken in condemning attacks against minorities in Kosovo, particularly Serbs. Thaci was asked what the UCK is doing to protect minorities.
"The UCK since the beginning has had the objective of building peace and democracy and not [encouraging] the fleeing of minorities from Kosovo. We have declared and we declare again that they can live as equals in Kosovo. But this does not include those who have blood on their hands."
In answer to a final question, Thaci stated that the UCK still exists and that it is very strong.