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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 20:17 GMT

World: Europe

Profile: Rising star of Kosovar politics

Mr Thaci (right) with Albanian FM Milo

By South East Europe Analyst Gabriel Partos

Hashim Thaci, the youthful rising star of Kosovar Albanian politics, is a secretive man.

As the US waits for an ethnic Albanian answer to the international peace plan, Mr Thaci's whereabouts are unknown even though his assent is essential for KLA agreement.

Kosovo strikes
He was named as prime minister designate of the ethnic Albanian provisional government by the Kosovo Liberation Army a week ago.

But what is Mr Thaci's background and how did the 29-year-old hard-liner rise to such importance in such an apparently short time?

[ image: New face trusted by KLA leadership]
New face trusted by KLA leadership
Little was known about him outside the KLA before he was nominated, along with four other KLA members, to join the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team for the peace talks at Rambouillet in February.

A dramatic shift in the balance of ethnic Albanian forces quickly came to the fore when Mr Thaci - rather than long-standing leader Ibrahim Ruguova - was chosen as the Kosovar Albanian negotiating delegation's co-ordinator.

In other words, Mr Thaci emerged as the de facto leader.

That was not the only surprise the head of the KLA's political directorate produced at Rambouillet.

On 20 February, the day which was supposed to be the last day of negotiations before the deadline was extended, Mr Thaci appeared outside the building and declared that the Albanian delegation, and himself in particular, had been blackmailed.

"I have had pressures," he said. "I have had threats by the Serbian delegation, I have had threats from 'above' - through my picture being taken, through insulting me - that if I don't sign the agreement I would be killed."

The Serbian side denied the allegations.

Lone stand

The Albanian side did not sign the interim agreement presented by the six-nation Contact Group - reportedly because Mr Thaci, alone among the 15-member negotiating team, held out against it.

Mr Thaci's hard-line stance at Rambouillet was a logical continuation of his long involvement in the Kosovar Albanians' struggle for independence.

He was born in the Drenica region, stronghold of the current and previous ethnic Albanian revolts.

He was a student activist during between 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.

[ image: Thaci (right) with Demaci before Rambouillet]
Thaci (right) with Demaci before Rambouillet
During the mid-1990s he also spent time in Switzerland, a centre for radical Albanian emigre circles, where he pursued post-graduate studies in politics.

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

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

Though he is a hardliner, Mr Thaci is prepared to be pragmatic at times. He ignored the recommendation of the KLA's political representative, Adem Demaci, that the KLA should boycott the Rambouillet talks.

The disagreements continued, and Mr Demaci resigned from his post following the apparent failure to consult him about the setting up of a new government.

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