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Feb 17, 2018: Kosovo turns 10 at odds with its main allies

KOSOVO - The partially-recognized Balkan nation, which declared independence from Serbia on Feb 17, 2008, turns 10 at odds with its main allies. They criticize Pristina’s opposition to a war crimes court and its dreams of a regular army.

NATO, the United States and major European countries backed Kosovo’s independence drive and are urging Pristina to cooperate with the Netherlands-based court. Kosovo is trying to suspend the court, which was created in 2015 to prosecute atrocities committed by ethnic Albanians during their 1998-99 independence war. The focus will be on former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The New York Times notes that former KLA members have taken up positions of power in Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian country of 1.8 million people. The president and prime minister are among ex-guerrillas who might be called up to answer charges.

The milestone is likely to see a parade through Pristina by the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), a lightly armed, 2,500-strong force trained by NATO and tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordinance disposal.

On Mar 9, 2017, President Hashim Thaci called for the KSF to be replaced with a regular army of 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. The move was denounced immediately by Belgrade, which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. The change would require the support of the 120-seat parliament’s 11 Serb deputies. Backed by Belgrade, the deputies say they will never accept the plan.

The Belgrade radio station B92 reported in Sep 2017 that the plan for the army is still alive. Parliament has indicated it would bypass that opposition by preparing amendments to an existing law that would allow the KSF to buy heavy weapons.

NATO has some 4,500 soldiers stationed in Kosovo. In a statement on Mar 8, 2017, which was echoed by the main nations supporting Kosovo, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the proposal to transform the KSF into an armed force without a constitutional change as “unhelpful.”

The day might also see many Kosovars demonstrating against stalled economic progress. Recent months have been marked by anti-government protests, a reflection of growing discontent with the government.

Kosovo nationhood is backed by 114 United Nations members but not by the UN Security Council. Russia and China vetoed the bid on behalf of Serbia. Some five per cent of Kosovo’s people are ethnic Serbs.

#22111 Updated: 01/15/2018 REWRITTEN JAN 18 TO ADD WAR CRIMES COURT DISPUTE

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