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.