PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro, Dec. 3 -- Kosovo lawmakers named a former rebel commander as prime minister of their new government Friday, ignoring concerns that a U.N. war crimes tribunal might indict him.
Ramush Haradinaj, an ethnic Albanian, dismissed the possibility of war crimes charges and pledged to prepare the U.N.-administered Serbian province for what he called the "great challenge" of its future.
Kosovo's president, Ibrahim Rugova, left, congratulates Ramush Haradinaj after he was elected provincial prime minister by parliament in Pristina.
(Visar Kryeziu -- AP)
The 120-seat parliament voted 72 to 3 to make Haradinaj prime minister. Many members abstained, most of them from the second-biggest party, the rival Democratic Party of Kosovo.
Kosovo Serbs, who boycotted the vote, say Haradinaj is responsible for wartime atrocities committed against Serb civilians in western Kosovo.
Some governments have also voiced concern about the post going to Haradinaj, fearing that an indictment could destabilize the province and hinder normalization.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since June 1999, following a U.S.-led NATO air war that halted a crackdown by Serb forces on ethnic Albanians seeking independence. Ethnic Albanians make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people.
U.N. investigators recently questioned Haradinaj about his role during the 1998-99 war, when he was the commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army militia in the western part of the province. Serbs in Kosovo and politicians in Serbia consider him the most notorious of the former rebel commanders in the province and have repeatedly insisted he be brought to justice.
Haradinaj, 36, said the possibility of indictment amounted to mere speculation.
"I consider that there is no case against me," he said before his election.
Also Friday, the parliament certified the victory of President Ibrahim Rugova's party in last month's general elections by reelecting him as president.
Formation of the new government follows a coalition deal struck between Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo, which won 45 percent of the vote, and Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, which came in third with 8 percent.
The new Kosovo government is likely to represent the province in talks aimed at resolving its final status. Negotiations are expected to begin in mid-2005 if there is progress by then in improving governance, the economy and human rights.