"Very soon we will take a decision," Thaci said.
 
He vowed to make an independent Kosovo "a country of equal opportunities for all its citizens".

He said that he shook hands with Tadic "as leaders of two independent countries" at the start of the meeting and pledged that in future Kosovo would "build good relations with Serbia".

Self-government

Tadic, however, urged the UN to begin further negotiations between the two sides, saying a solution that would provide self-government guaranteeing all rights to the Kosovo Albanians "is possible and attainable".
 
He stressed that Serbia is now a peaceful democracy and there is no reason it should be "unjustly punished again" because of the crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists by Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader, a decade ago.

"Going down the way of unilateral moves, Kosovo is not going
to join the
ranks of fully recognised members
of the international community"


Vitaly Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, made it clear his support for Serbia and indicated that any attempt by an independent Kosovo to become a member of the UN would be blocked by his country.

"Going down the way of unilateral moves, Kosovo is not going to join the ranks of fully recognised members of the international community," he said.

"It may get some recognitions, regrettably ... but it's not going to come to this building as full-fledged member of the international community. It's not going to be able to join other political international institutions."

The US and the vast majority of the 27-nation European Union are expected to recognise Kosovo immediately if it were to announce that it has become a sovereign state.

Joachim Ruecker, the chief of the UN administration in Kosovo, told the council that the province was ready to stand on its own.
   
"Kosovo's institutions are now ready for the next step," he said. "If all sides have goodwill, I think we can achieve this."

Election issue

Kosovo's imminent declaration of independence has become a key issue in Serbia's presidential election which will be held on Sunday.

Tomislav Nikolic, the nationalist Radical Party deputy leader and presidential candidate, has vowed to oppose any such move.

Presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic has
vowed to fight Kosovan independence [AFP]
Earlier on Wednesday, about 2,000 people joined a rally in Kosovo's ethnically divided town of Mitrovica to support his stance.
He told the rally: "I came here today, among you, to give you my oath, that regardless of the result ... I will never leave you alone here. You will never be without protection."

The crowd waved flags and sang nationalist songs within earshot of their Albanian neighbours.
 
Nikolic has had a slight lead in recent opinion polls and has vowed to strongly fight Kosovan independence.