Saturday, October 21, 2006

UN and NATO consider setting up Kosovo army -report

PRISTINA, Serbia, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The United Nations and NATO are considering creating a 2,500-strong army in Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo, according to a report on Saturday.

U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari discussed the possibility during meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore quoted diplomatic sources as saying.

"Diplomatic sources told Koha that much of the discussion with Ahtisaari was about how to create a Kosovo army or as they call it, a Kosovo security force," it reported. "It would have 2,500 lightly armed soldiers, and would be trained by NATO."

Western diplomats in Kosovo say the majority-Albanian territory will likely have its own army after a decision on its future, but the idea remains highly sensitive due to the fears of the minority 100,000 remaining Serbs.

Kosovo has its own multi-ethnic police force and a civil emergency force made up mainly of former guerrillas.

Ahtisaari's spokeswoman, Hua Jaing, told Reuters the Brussels meeting was "closed" and she could not discuss the details.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing.

Ahtisaari opened direct talks in February and is pressing ahead with plans to submit a proposal on Kosovo's "final status" within the year, despite signs a U.N. Security Council vote could be delayed into 2007 by Serbian elections.

In Vienna on Saturday, the former Finnish president briefed representatives of the major powers on his "initial ideas", which diplomats say will likely lead to a form of independence supervised by the European Union and NATO.

No statements were made after the meeting with the Contact Group guiding Balkan diplomacy -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

The 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is impatient for independence after years of economic and political limbo. U.N. officials in Kosovo fear a postponment of several months could invite fresh ethnic violence.

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