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article imageA Kosovo army would 'jeopardise peace': Serbian leader

By AFP     Oct 19, 2018 in World

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday that the creation of Kosovo army would "jeopardise peace and stability" and put the Balkan country in "big trouble".

The warning came a day after Kosovo took the first steps towards creating its own army, ten years after it declared independence, despite fierce opposition from the ethnic Serb minority and Serbia itself.

Since the end of the 1998-1999 war between Serbia's armed forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerillas, NATO-led international forces (KFOR) have been tasked with security in Kosovo.

More than 4,000 KFOR troops are currently deployed throughout the breakaway territory whose independence is recognised by more than 110 countries, but not by Serbia which still considers it to be its southern province.

Since it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has sought to establish its own army but those efforts have been met by bitter opposition from Serbia, which has a crucial influence on the Kosovo Serb minority and their MPs in the parliament.

After meeting US State Department official Matthew Palmer, Vucic said he had urged the United States, a strong supporter of Kosovo's independence, "to well understand that it (the army creation)could jeopardise peace and stability and lead to tragic consequences."

"We would be in a big trouble and pushed into the corner... if policy of creation of Kosovo army... continued," Vucic told reporters.

The parliament in Pristina on Thursday passed three bills laying the groundwork for transforming the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) -- an emergency force trained to respond to disasters -- into a regular army.

- 'Horribly difficult position' -

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic believes that the formation of a Kosovo army would "jeopardi...
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic believes that the formation of a Kosovo army would "jeopardise peace and stability" in the Balkans
Yuri KADOBNOV, POOL/AFP/File

The move is aimed at avoiding the need for a constitutional change to legally establish armed forces, a measure that would require a two-thirds majority of both ethnic Albanian and the 20 non-Albanian MPs, half of whom are ethnic Serbs. Serb MPs have blocked any such initiative in the past.

NATO has repeatedly made clear that it would prefer the KSF to be transformed into a regular army via constitutional changes and "in consultation with all communities in Kosovo".

"NATO supports the development of the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate," a NATO official in Brussels told AFP earlier Friday.

"Should this mandate evolve, the North Atlantic Council would have to re-examine the level of NATO's engagement in Kosovo," the official said.

On Thursday Vucic warned that creating a Kosovo army, as well as the possible departure of the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) -- deployed after the war to run the breakaway territory until its status was solved -- would push Serbia into a "horribly difficult position".

A Serbian tank in January 1999 in Kosovo's northern Podujevo region  as Serb forces advanced to...
A Serbian tank in January 1999 in Kosovo's northern Podujevo region, as Serb forces advanced toward positions of ethnic Albanian guerillas
ALPHONSO, AFP/File

In such a position "we have no choice any more... than to protect our country and our people," Vucic was quoted by Beta news agency as saying.

The dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina on normalising ties have been stalled for months but started generating attention -- and concern -- this summer after Vucic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci signalled an openness to the idea of border changes.

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