NATO to stay in Kosovo despite unsure future

NATO emerged Friday with a consensus to keep its 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo and give its commanders 'full flexibility' to deal with any future crises, alliance members said.

NATO to stay in Kosovo despite unsure future
NATO and EU foreign ministers reached the agreement late Thursday in a bid to promote stability in Kosovo which appears to be moving rapidly toward declaring independence from Serbia.

'There is a consensus that NATO should stay with the current levels,' Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht told reporters.

US and European diplomats added that ministers from the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union have drafted a communique that they anticipate will be formally endorsed later on Friday.

'The significance of this is rather considerable because it means that NATO is prepared to fulfill its role into the future despite what is almost certain to be a change in the situation on the ground,' a senior US diplomat said.

The NATO allies are determined to show a united front to Russia, in talks Friday with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a NATO-Russia Council, which has often proved a forum for diplomatic fireworks.

Russia, Serbia's strong ally, has forced EU and NATO countries to work toward Kosovo's independence outside the favoured forum of the UN Security Council, where Moscow has threatened to use its veto.

Russia claims that a declaration of independence would undermine UN Security Council resolution 1244 which allowed for the deployment of so-called KFOR and set up the UN mission that has run the province since 1999.

But US diplomats claim the new Kosovo Force mandate under the existing resolution.

'There will be a strong decision of the alliance tomorrow to keep KFOR at its current levels with full flexibility for its commanders under UNSC 1244,' a senior US diplomat told reporters Thursday.

Security Council resolution 1244 was passed in 1999 after NATO's forces bombed Belgrade to stop a Serbian crackdown on fighters in the ethnic Albanian dominated province.

It tasked KFOR with maintaining security and provided for the UN mission that has run Kosovo ever since; an administration the EU has made plans to replace in coming months to ease the transition to self-rule.

Kosovo is seeking independence while Belgrade is willing to grant its southern province no more than autonomy.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will have talks with Lavrov here, reiterated US support for enforcing a UN proposal giving Kosovo 'supervised independence.'

On the plane to Brussels Thursday, she said: 'The logic of the Ahtisaari plan is going to have to be carried out.'

UN special envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari presented a plan early this year calling for independence under international supervision for the province.

US diplomats said the KFOR commanders will need 'full flexibility' to deal with whatever crisis emerges after restrictions—known in NATO as caveats—proved a major burden in Kosovo.

'NATO took care to remove caveats,' a US diplomat said, adding: 'It will be a far more capable force.'

The Belgian foreign minister added: 'NATO Secretary General (Jaap de Hoop Scheffer) made clear that if needed additional troops would be made available.'


Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Aralık 2007, 13:20