PRISTINA (AP)--The North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains committed to providing security to allow for a peaceful climate in Kosovo as the disputed U.N.-administered province nears possible talks on its future status, the alliance's commander for southeastern Europe said during a visit Thursday.
Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of NATO's Joint Force Command based in Naples, Italy, made the comments during his second visit to Kosovo as regional commander. There are some 17,500 NATO-led peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo.
"NATO is absolutely committed to providing a safe and secure environment here in Kosovo so that the political process can work its way to a successful conclusion," Ulrich said.
Ulrich met with officials from NATO, the U.N. and Kosovo's Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi during his one-day visit. He also visited Kosovo Protection Corps, a civil emergency unit consisting mostly of former ethnic Albanian rebel fighters that battled Serb forces during the 1998-1999 war.
The U.N. and NATO have been running Kosovo since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia for 78 days to force it to end a crackdown against separatist ethnic Albanians and pull out the Serb troops.
Relations between NATO and Serbia have improved since former President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power in 2000.
In Kosovo, ethnic tensions remain high six years after the war. There are fears that security risks could escalate ahead of planned talks on the province's final status later this year.
Kosovo is dominated by ethnic Albanians seeking independence from Serbia, while Belgrade wants to retain at least some control over its southern province. [ 18-08-05 1330GMT ]