Kosovo denies hosting Syrian opposition camps

18/06/2012

Kosovo supports the NATO and EU policy towards Syria, but claims it is not involved in military training.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 18/06/12

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Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused Kosovo of hosting military training camps for Syrian opposition fighters. [Reuters]

Kosovo officials are denying Russia's allegations that there are military training camps for Syrian opposition fighters on Kosovo territory that threaten ongoing efforts to bring peace to Syria and pose broader security consequences.

"Kosovo is a country on the EU path, and NATO is omnipresent on all of its territory. No militants from any country have ever been trained in Kosovo," Petrit Selimi, Kosovo deputy foreign minister, told SETimes.

Russia raised the issue after a Syrian opposition delegation visited Kosovo in April.

"The training of militants would run counter to the efforts of the UN and Arab League special envoy, which are supported by the entire international community," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador at the UN, told the UN Security Council.

More than 30,000 refugees have fled Syria for Turkey to escape violence from the 15-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

At the end of May, Kosovo hosted a ten-day police and security training course for 25 former Libyan revolutionary brigade members, to share its experience in combatant rehabilitation.

"Turning Kosovo into an international drilling ground where the militants of paramilitary formations would get training may become a serious destabilising factor reaching out to places far beyond the boundaries of the Balkans," Churkin said.

Kosovo officials and KFOR denied Russia's claims; the former said Kosovo's position on Syria is in line with EU and NATO policy.

Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj explained the purpose of the Syrian opposition's April visit was to learn from Kosovo's experience in building unity among factions.

"KFOR is not aware of any such training camps in Kosovo," Marc Stummler, deputy spokesperson for KFOR, told SETimes.

Experts explained that Kosovo has supported the opposition in Libya, Egypt and Syria and their demands for regime change because it did not have diplomatic relations with those countries and they acted as Serbia's key supporters in the UN, the Arab League and the Islamic Conference.

Kosovo is trying to use to its advantage, the political changes prompted by the Arab Spring, to secure diplomatic recognition from the new regimes.

Officials said they expect in the coming month to finalise diplomatic recognition from Egypt and Libya.

"Hoxhaj was the first Balkan foreign minister to visit Cairo after the fall of the old regime. We believe that the transition is conducive to improving of relations between the people and government of Kosovo and those in northern Africa," Selimi said.

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He added that Kosovo follows carefully the developments in Syria. "We support the democratic transition and full respect of human rights."

Bekim Tahiri, an international relations professor at Pristina University, argued Kosovo supports the Syrian opposition because the Albanians in Kosovo experienced a similar fate in the conflict of 1999.

"The use of force to remain in power and the will of the people to bring about changes are factors which Kosovo is very sensitive to because of its past, when Milosevic used force against Albanians to stop their political aspirations," Tahiri told SETimes.

"Kosovo has no capacity to train foreign fighters and all military facilities are under NATO observation or control. I really can not find a reason why Russia makes such claims," he added.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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