Kosovo votes to create its own army, enraging Serbia

PRISTINA, Kosovo on Friday passed laws to build an army, asserting its statehood in a USbacked move that prompted outrage in Serbia, which does not recognise its former province's independence.

Kosovo has been guarded by NATOled peacekeeping troops since it broke away

from Belgrade in a bloody separatist war in 199899.

Now, new legislation will transform a small crisisresponse outfit, the

Kosovo Security Force (KSF), into an defence army with 5,000 troops.

This vote today begins a new era for our country, parliamentary speaker

Kadri Veseli announced as MPs embraced each other after the session,

boycotted by minority Serb politicians.

The vote has delighted many Kosovo Albanians, with several hundred

gathering in the main street of capital Pristina to celebrate the army as a

new pillar of their independence, declared in 2008.

This is an enormous emotion, we are happy that the creation of our country

is being completed, Vlora Rexhepi, a 23yearold student, told AFP as a

group of musicians dressed in traditional costumes played for the crowd.

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci hailed it as the best gift for the end of

the year season.

We are finally closing down the statebuilding process, he wrote on

Facebook.

'Crossed the line'

While it will take years for the troops to be fully trained, Serbia has

cast the move as a dire threat to regional stability.

NATO and the European Union have also criticised the move as hasty.

But Kosovo felt free to move ahead with strong backing from the United

States, its most important ally.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at the move.

It is absolutely clear that behind everything that (ethnic) Albanians have

been doing are the United States, Great Britain and, in the case of creating

the army, Germany as well, Vucic said in a televised public address.

They do not understand that they all crossed the line, said Vucic, who

called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on the

issue.

In particular, Belgrade has been sounding the alarm over the safety of

120,000 Serbs still living in enclaves across Albanianmajority Kosovo,

mainly in the north near their contested border.

Those Serb communities are loyal to Belgrade and also broadly against the

army plan.

Several hundred students protested Friday in the Serbhalf of the divided

city of Mitrovica, which was decorated with Serbian flags in response to the

American starsandstripes draped across much of the rest of Kosovo in a sign

of gratitude for Washington's support.

Goran Rakic, a Serb political leader in the flashpoint city, called

Pristina's decision a gunshot into peace. But he urged local Serbs to

exercise restraint.

President Vucic vowed that Belgrade would protect them if needed.

If they attack you, the state of Serbia will have strength to protect

you, he said.

NATO, which had warned the move was illtimed, said the alliance would

now reexamine its relationship with the KSF, which it helped train.

The alliance nevertheless remains committed to securing Kosovo's safety

through KFOR, the peacekeeping force is has led since the war with Serbia,

said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

The EU echoed the regret, saying the mandate of the KSF should only be

changed through an inclusive and gradual process in accordance with Kosovo's

Constitution.

And the UN said SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres had taken note of the

adoption with concern and called for restraint.

The SecretaryGeneral calls on all parties concerned to exercise restraint

and refrain from actions that could raise tensions and cause a further

setback in the European Unionfacilitated dialogue for the normalisation of

relations between Belgrade and Pristina, it said in a statement.

Kosovo's government circumvented having to make constitutional changes to

create the army, which would have required support from Serb MPs, by voting

on a package of laws that kept the name of the KSF but changed its mandate.

Faltering talks

The US Embassy was quick to welcome the news but also urged Kosovo and

Serbia to take immediate steps to lower tensions and make progress in their

ongoing dialogue.

The neighbours have struggled to make progress in faltering EUled talks to

normalise ties � a condition for either to eventually join the bloc.

Their relationship took a serious plunge last month after Kosovo slapped a

100percent tariff on Serbian goods in retaliation for Belgrade's attempts to

undermine its standing on the world stage.

Serbia has blocked Kosovo from various international organisations,

including the UN, and also lobbied foreign governments to revoke their

recognition of its statehood.

Analysts say the army move is also partly an attempt by Kosovo's government

to make up for recent setbacks.

In November, global police organisation Interpol rejected Kosovo's

application to become a member.

Another source of public frustration is the lack of visafree travel status

in the European Union, which other Balkan states enjoy.

After the failure to join Interpol and visa liberalisation, the

transformation of the KSF is their only card left, said political analyst

Imer Mushkolaj.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)