The NATO Military Committee highlighted the need for KFOR presence and regional efforts to promote safety and prosperity.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 05/1012
KFOR needs to remain in Kosovo to insure security, the NATO Military Committee said. [Reuters]
Although KFOR remains integral to the Western Balkans' security and stability, regional co-operation ultimately will play a more important role, analysts from the Balkans said during a meeting of the NATO Military committee.
Western Balkan stability was a primary topic at the meeting, which was held last month as a precursor to the Allaince's Defence Minister's meeting on Tuesday (October 9th) and Wednesday.
Participants expressed their commitment to KFOR and security in the wider region. Officials also reiterated the need for a durable political solution, encouraging all parties to continue with discussions under the auspices of the EU.
"We looked at how in the future NATO can support the development of an enduring political solution to the unresolved issues in the Western Balkans," General Knud Bartels, NATO Military Committee chairman, told SETimes.
Leiutenant General Drago Lovric, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Croatia, said KFOR presence and a commitment to resolving security issues were significant discussion points during the meeting.
"I believe that the continued engagement of NATO will provide a needed security framework, which will allow solving problems by political tools and negotiations," Lovric said.
Florian Qehaja, director of the Kosovo Centre for Security Studies, said the conference's conclusions reaffirmed the need for a further presence of KFOR in upcoming years. The gradual downsizing of the current force should be in parallel with the consolidation of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and a handover of responsibilities to the Kosovo Police, in order to support NATO integration, he said.
KFOR, which at one time numbered 50,000 troops, is now comprised of roughly 5,600 troops from 30 countries, according to NATO's website.
"As for the Western Balkans in its entirety, NATO is encouraging the efforts of Montenegro and BiH to progress further in defence and political reform," Qehaja told SETimes. "NATO seems to be more proactive in convincing the Serbian government for further alignment with [the Alliance] and potential integration of the country in its organisations."
Some analysts say co-operation is a more important component for regional safety and stability than NATO membership, which is a sensitive political issue in some countries. Still, peace in Kosovo depends on KFOR.
"Regional co-operation is the guarantor of stability in the Balkans, but it is a fact that peace in Kosovo, unfortunately, is unsustainable without the presence of NATO troops … [this] should be a clear signal to the Serbian leadership to deepen co-operation and dialogue with NATO," said Nikola Petrovic, director of the International and Security Affairs Center Fund in Belgrade.
Bartels emphasised that providing security in Kosovo is KFOR's main aim.
"The situation in Kosovo has improved since last year, although some security matters remain," Bartels said. "KFOR is thoroughly committed to enforce the UN mandate to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement."
SETimes correspondent Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest contributed to this report.