31 October 2006

EU sees policing mission of up to 1,000 in Kosovo

Reuters, Tuesday October 3, 10:40 PM

LEVI, Finland (Reuters) - The EU is looking to send up to 1,000 police, judges and other law enforcement personnel to Kosovo once the future of the U.N.-administered province of Serbia is settled, an EU official said on Tuesday.

France proposed at a meeting of EU defense ministers in northern Finland that the 8-month-old European gendarmerie, a six-nation corps based in Italy, be used for the operation.

"It will be a big mission. They will be armed and have powers to arrest," the EU official said of the force, which would take over from the existing U.N. police force in Kosovo.

He said a team of EU officials was in the region to study how the mission could operate but added: "Nothing will be launched until the final status is settled."

The U.N. is expected to decide within months whether to grant Kosovo a form of independence, seven years after NATO wrested control of the mostly ethnic Albanian province from Serbia to stop what it said was becoming a bloodbath.

Washington said last week Kosovo was unstable and that its future must be resolved this year, reflecting concern in the West that delaying a decision risks fresh violence, a fear underlined by attacks on Kosovo's remaining Serbs.

U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari is expected to propose by November a solution, with diplomats widely expecting a form of supervised independence -- despite Belgrade's objections.

Former Finnish President Ahtisaari briefed defense ministers late on Monday on status talks but observers said he gave no indications as to the timing or content of any proposal.

The EU has said it has no plans to take over peacekeeping duties from NATO's 17,500-strong force in Kosovo.

The European gendarmerie includes police forces from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The EU official said Poland had said it would also join the contingent.