The United States supports Kosovo’s plans to create its own army, the U.S. ambassador to Pristina said on Thursday, December 6, signalling a rift with NATO, which is against the move.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, is expected to vote on December 14 on whether to transform its lightly-armed emergency force, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), into a national army.
Since the end of the 1998-99 war that effectively cleaved it from Serbia, Kosovo has been defended by international NATO-led troops.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that Kosovo’s army plans are “ill-timed” and go “against the advice of many NATO allies.”
“NATO supports Kosovo’s security force in its current mandate,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
“Should the mandate for the Kosovo security force evolve, the North Atlantic Council would have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement in Kosovo,” he said, adding that NATO had made this clear to Pristina on several occasions.
But Washington is fully behind the move, U.S. ambassador Philip Kosnett told state broadcaster RTK in Pristina.
“We think that KSF’s evolution into Kosovo’s armed forces is a positive step and that it is only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country to have its own defence capability,” he said, adding that the U.S. has invested money and training in the emergency force’s development.
“This is a process that will take many years,” he added.
In October, Kosovo’s parliament approved a first reading of laws that would transform the KSF into a regular army.
KSF minister Rrustem Berisha said the new laws will see the force’s “gradual transformation into an organisation whose mission is to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo.”
The process could take up to 10 years, according to officials.
Serbia concerns over Kosovo army
Serbia has led the charge in raising concern over Kosovo’s army plans. It refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence and still considers it a renegade territory.
On Tuesday, Serbia’s president Aleksander Vucic accused Pristina of trying to “drive out” Kosovo’s 120,000 Serb community, which is concentrated in the north, with its army plans.
He warned that the move could “lead to disaster, because Serbia cannot and will not calmly observe the destruction of the Serbian people.”
Speaking about the plans on Wednesday, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said: “I hope that we will never have to use our army, but at this moment it is one of the options on the table.”
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj responded Wednesday saying it was a “pure lie” that the army would be directed in the Serb-dominated north, which has never fully submitted to Pristina’s authority.
“The army will not be for the north of Kosovo … The army will be used to help NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.
More than 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, were killed in the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian guerillas in Kosovo and Serbian forces.
The conflict ended when a NATO bombing forced Serbian troops to withdraw.
With reporting from AFP