Officials: NATO considers more Kosovo reserves

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2011 12:17 PM
Officials: NATO considers more Kosovo reserves

NATO may activate a second unit to bolster its forces in northern Kosovo to quell tensions between authorities and the Serb minority, officials said Thursday.

If approved, the second unit would reinforce a German-Austrian infantry battalion reserve force. The unit, made up of about 550 German soldiers and 150 Austrians, started arriving Wednesday.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. More than 70 nations, including the U.S., support Kosovo's independence, though it is still not a member of the United Nations.

Serbia, which considers Kosovo the cradle of its statehood and religion, does not recognize Kosovo's independence. In addition, Serbs in the northern part of the former province do not recognize the government in Pristina, Kosovo's capital.

Last month, one policeman was killed after Kosovo tried to take control of two disputed border crossings in northern Kosovo, sparking anger among local Serbs who want the former province to remain part of Serbia. After Kosovo police withdrew, a mob of Serb militants set one border post ablaze and erected a series of roadblocks.

A diplomat and another official with knowledge of the situation said NATO might deploy a second reserve battalion because of the simmering tensions. Both officials said the new unit would be Italian-based. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance had made no decision to deploy additional forces to Kosovo beyond the German-Austrian reserves. NATO has said that contingent isn't intended to permanently increase the alliance force, but only to provide temporary relief during the crisis.

There are still about 6,000 NATO troops keeping the peace in Kosovo, more than a decade after the war that effectively ended Serbia's rule over its one-time province.

Kosovo's authorities, who are primarily ethnic Albanian, wield little authority in northern Kosovo. Their effort to seize the border posts was an attempt to finally assert authority in a region of Kosovo that still considers itself to be part of Serbia.

On Wednesday, NATO said it has reached a provisional agreement with Serbian officials to remove the roadblocks and open the crossings to normal traffic. But authorities in Kosovo's capital of Pristina said the deal was unacceptable because they have imposed a ban on imports from Serbia.

In Kosovo, NATO spokesman Capt. Hans Wichter said the two crossing points were partly closed again Thursday, and the military alliance was assessing the situation. Wichter said only cars and humanitarian goods were allowed to cross into Kosovo's Serb-run north.

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Nebi Qena contributed to this report from Kosovo.