13 July 2007

NATO commander for southeast Europe expresses concern over security in Kosovo

Associated Press, Saturday, February 24, 2007 9:08 AM


PRISTINA, Serbia-NATO's commander for southeastern Europe said Saturday the alliance was concerned about recent violence in Kosovo in which two protesters were killed and three U.N. vehicles were bombed.


Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of NATO's Joint Force Command based in Naples, Italy, pledged a firm response to any more trouble in the province. He called the incidents, which occurred over the last two weeks, "counterproductive and indeed destructive to the future of Kosovo."


The tension comes amid a deadlock in negotiations between Serbian and ethnic Albanian officials over postwar Kosovo's future status and predictions from diplomats that the U.N. Security Council, which will have the final say, may have to impose a solution.


A U.N. proposal, drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, would give Kosovo internationally supervised self-rule, including a flag, anthem, army and constitution.


A final round of negotiations on the plan appears unlikely to produce a breakthrough, prompting concern that extremists on both sides could plunge the territory back into violence eight years after Serb forces and ethnic Albanian separatists fought a war here.


NATO's 16,000 peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo will react "quickly and firmly to any form of violence and to those who incite violence and to those who plan violence," Ulrich said.


"Violence cannot and will not be tolerated," he said after meeting Kosovo's prime minister, Agim Ceku.


Ulrich said NATO was working on proposals on how to create Kosovo's new security force, as called for in the U.N. draft.


Ethnic Albanian leaders, who demand independence from Serbia, have accepted the U.N. proposal, while Serbia rejected it, saying it gives the province virtual independence.


Some among Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority are also angry at the plan, complaining that it does not go far enough in granting the province full independence. Several thousand protesters sharing that view took to the streets Feb. 10 and broke through a police barricade blocking their path toward a government building. U.N. police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, killing two of the demonstrators.


Three U.N. vehicles were bombed on Monday.


Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended a Serbian crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.


Another round of U.N.-brokered talks between ethnic Albanian and Serbian leaders over a U.N. plan for Kosovo concluded with no agreement on Friday in Austria, while the final round of negotiations between the former foes is scheduled to end by March 10.


Ahtisaari plans to submit the package by the end of March to the U.N. Security Council, which will have the final say over Kosovo's future.