Kosovo Parliament To Vote To Form New Army, Angering Serbia

Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, center, flanked by KSF Commander Rrahman Rama as they inspect members of Kosovo Security Force in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)


BY FLORENT BAJRAMI         
PRISTINA, KOSOVO (AP)
— Kosovo’s parliament is convening to approve the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

The 120-seat parliament on Friday will vote on three laws to turn the existing 4,000-member Kosovo Security Force into a regular, lightly armed army. Ethnic Serb lawmakers are expected to boycott the vote.

Serbia fears the move’s main purpose is to ethnically cleanse Kosovo’s Serbian-dominated north, something strongly denied by Pristina.

In a sign of defiance, Serbs in the north displayed Serbian flags on streets and balconies while NATO-led peacekeepers deployed on a bridge in the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also is to visit Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo in an apparent saber-rattling move

The U.S. Ambassador in Pristina, Philip S. Kosnett met on Thursday with the KSF commander “to underscore the U.S. Government’s commitment to the KSF’s evolution as a defensive force serving all of Kosovo’s communities and reflective of the country’s multi-ethnic character.”

“Let’s remember that a country’s security depends on the quality of its security relationships — and peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with its neighbors — as much as on the strength and professionalism of its armed forces,” he tweeted Friday.

The new army will preserve its former name — Kosovo Security Force — but now with a new mandate. In about a decade the army will have 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists, essentially operating as a security force handling crisis response and civil protection operations.

Kosovo’s 1998-199 war ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999 that stopped a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo’s 2008 independence isn’t recognized by Serbia.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania; Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia contributed.

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Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini
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