PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's president has called on NATO to support the transformation of its security force into a regular army with heavy weaponry.
President Hashim Thaci sent a draft law to parliament last week seeking approval to form a regular army. The move was immediately denounced by Serbian leaders, who refuse to recognize the independence its former province declared in 2008.
Relations between Kosovo and Serbia have been tense recently and the move is likely to make things worse.
NATO and the U.S. have warned 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 amending the country's Constitution.
The Western military alliance has helped train Kosovo's security force.
The president regretted that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg mentioned potential consequences and asked him to clarify to NATO member countries they haven't put "into question our sovereign right" to create an army, but that they only question "the approach."
"Kosovo is determined to complete this process gradually in a transparent and inclusive way," Thaci said.
In a letter sent to Stoltenberg, Thaci says that securing the necessary parliamentary backing for constitutional amendments isn't viable since lawmakers representing the country's ethnic Serb minority are boycotting parliament. Constitutional amendments would require voting approval from ethnic minorities at Kosovo's parliament.
Kosovo's independence has been recognized by 114 countries, but not by Serbia.
The draft law sent by Thaci can be approved with a simple majority vote of lawmakers, not needing those of the Serb representatives.
If Kosovo gradually establishes its defensive capabilities, it "becomes legally eligible to aspire for NATO membership," he said.
"Serbia, being backed strongly by Russia, does not share the same goal as Kosovo to become a NATO member," according to Thaci.