Kosovo to top the agenda as NATO defence ministers meet
Concerns over the disputed handover of authority from the United Nations to the European Union in Kosovo and a dispute over the status of the newly-independent country are set to top the agenda Thursday as NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels, dpa reported.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday proposed that the UN's current law-and-order mission in Kosovo be reduced in size by some 70 per cent as its EU equivalent moves to take over.
But NATO officials have long said they fear that any slip in the handover could leave NATO peacekeeping troops in a policing role for which they are not prepared.
"We don't want KFOR to be in the position of first responder: it's not a police force, it should not be put in the position of being a police force. It is not mandated to play that role, our soldiers are not equipped or trained to play that role, and we should not ask them to do that," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
NATO maintains some 15,700 troops in a peacekeeping force known as KFOR in Kosovo. The force's mission is to maintain security within the ethnically-divided province.
Thursday's meeting is set to bring the defence ministers of the alliance's 26 members together with their counterparts from non-NATO states who have troops in KFOR, in order to discuss how KFOR should operate once Kosovo's new constitution comes into force on Sunday.
Under a plan drawn up by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari in 2007, KFOR should continue providing security in Kosovo while training a lightly-armed Kosovo Security Force (KSF). The EU, meanwhile, should take over from UN administrators in training the Kosovo police and judiciary.
However, Russia, which holds a veto right on the UN Security Council, has rejected the Ahtisaari plan, making it unclear how the UN mission could hand over to the EU.
That lack of clarity has left NATO members worrying that KFOR could be forced to play a temporary policing role in Kosovo.
Moreover, not all NATO member states have recognized Kosovo's independence, making it as yet unclear how the alliance could legally agree to train the KSF.
Failure to agree on that point would not jeopardize KFOR's security, but it could be a "risk to (NATO's) reputation," one Brussels diplomat said.
Ministers are also set to discuss alliance operations in Afghanistan and attempts to modernize its forces, and to meet with their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts.