Friday, January 20, 2006

Kosovo leaders regret loss of Slovakian peacekeepers

PRISTINA, Jan 20, 2006 (AFP) -

Senior political and military leaders in Kosovo expressed condolences Friday to Bratislava over the loss of Slovak peacekeepers in an airplane crash in Hungary.

Bajram Kosumi, the prime minister of Kosovo where the peacekeepers were serving, said his government and people were "deeply sorry for the tragic death of Slovakian soldiers while they were returning to their families from their honourable mission in building peace in Kosovo".

"We will honor the memory of the lost soldiers and their professionalism by continuing to operate with the same vigour and enthusiasm they displayed," said Italian General Giuseppe Valotto, commander of NATO-led forces in Kosovo (KFOR).

KFOR has about 17,000 troops from 35 nations.

The soldiers are in charge of establishing and maintaining a secure environment in the province, including public safety and aiding the UN mission in Kosovo.

Kosovo is technically part of Serbia but has been a UN protectorate since NATO intervened in 1999 to end clashes between Serbian forces and separatist guerrillas.

Since their mission started, more than 110 international peacekeepers have lost their lives in Kosovo in various accidents.

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