15th December 2018
The 4,000 troop-strong Kosovo Security Force (KSF) was upgraded to an army under legislation passed by a majority of 107 Kosovan MPs on Friday.
The vote, which was boycotted by ethnic Serb politicians, means the KSF in expected to have 5,000 troops, 3,000 reservists and a €98m annual budget within the next decade.
Serbia has called the move a “direct threat to peace and stability” in the Balkans and said military action was being considered in response.
An armed intervention was “one of the options on the table”, Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić said.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a position not recognised by Belgrade and its ally Russia.
WAR FEARS: Serbia said military action in Kosovo is being considered (Pic: GETTY)
The formation of an army by Pristina would violate a United Nations treaty that brought the Kosovo War of 1998-99 to an end, Belgrade claims.
Serbia president Aleksandar Vučić, visited Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo on Friday while his adviser, Nikola Selaković, could they could send in armed forces.
Goran Rakić, Serb leader in northern Kosovo, said the new army was “unacceptable” and “showed clearly that Pristina does not want peace”.
NATO has urged Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from provocative language that might jeopardise fragile relations that have been on a knife edge since the 1990s.
KEEP CALM: A soldier of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo
“I reiterate my call on both Pristina and Belgrade to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which may lead to escalation,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.
He said and members states will have to “re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement” with the KSF.
Kosovo‘s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj said the new army “will never be used against” Serbia.
He added: “Serbia’s army will now have a partner – Kosovo‘s army – in the partnership for peace process.”
PRIDE: People arrange Serbian national flags on the streets of Mitrovica (Pic: GETTY)
Belgrade fears a larger Kosovar army could be used to drive out the Serb minority in the region.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a now disbanded country made up of Montenegro and Serbia, controlled Kosovo before the war broke out in 1998.
During the conflict around 2,000 Kosovar rebels and civilians were killed in a brutal crackdown by Serb paramilitaries and regular forces.
The war end after NATO intervened in 1999, justifying a bombing campaign in Kosovo as a “humanitarian” intervention.