Photo Gallery Kosovo parliament to vote to form new army, angering Serbia

Kosovo parliament to vote to form new army, angering Serbia

Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, center, flanked by KSF Commander Rrahman Rama as they inspect members of Kosovo Security Force in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia.
Kosovo president Hashim Thaci salutes as he inspects members of Kosovo Security Force in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia.
Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, center, posses for a photo with members of Kosovo Security Force in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia.
Members of Kosovo Security Force honor guard line up for inspection by Kosovo president Hashim Thaci in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia.
Members of Kosovo Security Force line up for inspection by Kosovo president Hashim Thaci in capital Pristina, Kosovo, on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army.
A Kosovo police officer stands on a street decorated with American flags in the southern, ethnic Albanian-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. Kosovo’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

Kosovo’s parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

All 107 lawmakers present in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of passing three draft laws to turn the existing 4,000-strong Kosovo Security Force into a regular, lightly armed army.

Ethnic Serb lawmakers boycotted the vote.

Speaker Kadri Veseli hailed the vote as the start of a new epoch for Kosovo.

Serbia fears the move’s main purpose is to ethnically cleanse Kosovo’s Serbian-dominated north, something strongly denied by Pristina.

In a sign of defiance, Serbs in the north displayed Serbian flags on streets and balconies while NATO-led peacekeepers deployed on a bridge in the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also is to visit Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo in an apparent saber-rattling move

The U.S. Ambassador in Pristina, Philip S. Kosnett met on Thursday with the KSF commander “to underscore the U.S. Government’s commitment to the KSF’s evolution as a defensive force serving all of Kosovo’s communities and reflective of the country’s multi-ethnic character.”

“Let’s remember that a country’s security depends on the quality of its security relationships — and peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with its neighbors — as much as on the strength and professionalism of its armed forces,” he tweeted Friday.

The new army will preserve its former name — Kosovo Security Force — but now with a new mandate. In about a decade the army will have 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists, essentially operating as a security force handling crisis response and civil protection operations.

Kosovo’s 1998-199 war ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999 that stopped a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo’s 2008 independence isn’t recognized by Serbia.

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