NATO, US warn Kosovo against move to form army

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2017 10:15 AM

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO and the United States warned Wednesday they could scale back cooperation with Kosovo's security services if the government goes ahead with plans to transform its lightly-armed security force into an army without the required constitutional changes.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he told Kosovo's leaders by telephone "that unilateral steps such as these are unhelpful." He warned that if Kosovo goes ahead as planned "NATO will have to review its level of commitment, particularly in terms of capacity-building."

A U.S. embassy statement said "adoption of the current proposed law would force us to re-evaluate our bilateral cooperation with and longstanding assistance to Kosovo's security forces."

The move must be carried out through an "inclusive and representative political process," the statement added.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on Tuesday sent a draft law to parliament asking approval to form a regular army. The move was immediately denounced by Serbian leaders, who refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence and said they will use all political means available to prevent the formation of an army.

"There is no turning back. The KSF (Kosovo Security Force) will be transformed into Kosovo's army," Thaci told Radio Free Europe Wednesday. "Western Balkans is endangered from the Russian military bases in Serbia, from Russia's MIG jets in Serbia and from the Russian military exercises in Serbia."

Constitutional amendments would require voting approval from the ethnic minorities at Kosovo's parliament. Serbia in effect holds a key say through Kosovo Serbs on whether the required constitutional changes can happen.

Thaci said Kosovo cannot "coordinate with Serbia" on its own affairs and that "Belgrade cannot decide for Kosovo."

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday said he expects "help and support" from the European Union, the United States and Russia over Kosovo's plan. Vucic said the move was against the U.N. resolution that ended the war in Kosovo in 1999, and even against Kosovo's own constitution, which Serbia does not recognize.

Both the U.S. and NATO are key Kosovo allies and have been helping to build up Kosovo's security force.

Relations between Kosovo and Serbia have been tense recently and the move is likely to make things worse. Kosovo declared independence in 2008. The move has been recognized by 114 countries but not Belgrade.