Lawmakers in Kosovo have voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the country’s armed security force and create an army, an act set to inflame tensions with Serbia.
In a statement, Kosovo’s government said on Friday that it had drafted three laws – to transform its small Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a “multiethnic, professional, armed and authorized force to serve in the country and abroad,” on its new army’s recruitment and to change the Ministry of KSF into the Ministry of Defense.
“The Government of the Republic of Kosovo considers that Kosovo’s right for an army … stems from sacrifice and freedom, from the rule of law, the sovereign, the will of the citizens to protect and promote pro-Western values in Kosovo and beyond,” the statement said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Kosovo’s decision to upgrade the KSF into an army would not contribute to “cooperation, stability in the region.”
“It is better to sit down and talk about how we can build a different future, rather than look at how we can raise barriers,” she said.
The vote has prompted sharp criticism from NATO – which has guarded Kosovo with peacekeeping troops since it attempted to break away from Serbia 20 years ago. The war led to thousands of deaths and the displacement of nearly 90% of Kosovo’s population. Despite eventually declaring independence in 2008, Serbia still does not recognize Kosovo.
In a statement, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he regretted Kosovo’s parliament vote to create an army, calling it “ill-timed” and asked for all sides to “remain calm.”
“All sides must ensure that today’s decision will not further increase tensions in the region,” Stoltenberg said.
“All responsible political actors in the region need to focus on progress with reforms, and on dialogue. I reiterate my call on both Pristina and Belgrade to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which may lead to escalation.”
He added that NATO would now re-examine its level of engagement with the Kosovo Security Force.
Tensions have been rising between the two countries since Kosovo blamed Serbia for blocking it from Interpol membership in November. Kosovo retaliated by introducing a 100% customs tariffs on all Serbian imports until Belgrade recognized Pristinia – which has remained in place despite calls from the European Union to revoke the tax immediately.
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told local media on Friday that he would be requesting an urgent session of the UN Security Council due to Kosovo’s “grave violation” of resolution 1244. The resolution effectively brought an end to the war in 1999 and established the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
“This is the most direct threat to peace and stability in the region and the security of the Serb people living in Kosovo and Metohija,” Dacic said.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Kosovo’s capital Pristina said in a statement that it was Kosovo’s “sovereign right” to transition the KSF into a defense force.
“These laws bring no immediate change to the structure, mission or operations of the (Kosovo Security) Force,” the statement said.
“Regional stability requires that Kosovo make genuine efforts to normalize relations with its neighbor Serbia, and we encourage both sides to take immediate steps to lower tensions and create conditions for rapid progress on the Dialogue.”
CNN’s Arnaud Siad and Milena Veselinovic contributed to this report.