Thaqi confident Kosovo to win independence

SOFIA, Jan 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) Kosovo Albanian leader Hashim Thaqi said on Saturday he was confident Kosovo would eventually win independence from Serbia, despite international opposition.

Speaking after talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, Thaqi also told reporters Bulgaria had an important contribution to make to stability in the Balkans.

"The future of Kosovo will be decided through a referendum whose results will be accepted by us and the international community," said Thaqi, a former guerrilla leader and prime minister of a self-declared provisional government.

Thaqi was visiting Sofia with Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians in neighboring Macedonia, at the invitation of Bulgaria's ruling Union of Democratic Forces.

Thaqi thanked Kostov for Bulgaria's support during the NATO air campaign that drove Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo last June.

"We think that Bulgaria under Ivan Kostov will continue to be a stabilizing factor in the Balkans," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

"We need the support of important external factors like Bulgaria and Kosovo for the stabilization of Macedonia," agreed Xhaferi, whose party represents Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority.

Both men said they were keen for closer ties with Bulgaria, but were not on an anti-Serbian crusade.

"Our cooperation should not be built on the basis of anti-Serbian feelings but on mutual respect between Bulgarians and Kosovars, on observing human rights and the principles of market economy and free media," Thaqi said.

Thaqi and Xhaferi were expected to attend a conference of the Bulgarian ethnic Turks' Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) this weekend.

The MRF, the third party in parliament, has frequently held the balance of power in Bulgaria over the past decade and its support is seen as crucial in a general election due next year.