The Kosovan parliament approved the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into an army on December 14, despite strong Serbian opposition.
The future Kosovan army will have 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. According to the Kosovan authorities, the transformation process may last 10 years.
The decision is expected to worsen relations between Belgrade and Pristina, particularly after Kosovo imposed 100% tariffs on imports of Serbian products recently, in retaliation for Belgrade’s lobbying against Kosovo’s application to join Interpol.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and has never been recognised as an independent state by Belgrade.
At a plenary session, chaired by speaker Kadri Veseli, MPs adopted three draft laws in the final vote related to the formation of the army, the parliament said in the statement.
In a festive atmosphere, the laws were adopted by 107 MPs in the 120-seat parliament. Eleven ethnic Serb MPs boycotted the vote.
Veseli said that this is a historic day for Kosovo.
Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said in a separate statement that the decision “is an extraordinary news for the consolidation of the state of Kosovo”.
“Kosovo's army will always be multiethnic and will serve all its citizens, in function of peace with all armies of the region, including the Serbian Army,” Haradinaj said.
However, the situation is expected to raise tensions in northern Kosovo, which has a mainly Serb population.
The day before the vote, soldiers of the Nato-led KFOR peacekeeping mission moved through the north of Kosovo. The region is populated mainly by Kosovo’s Serb minority, and the KFOR movement was seen by ethnic Serbs as a provocation before the crucial vote.
The Serbian government strongly condemned the formation of the army, saying that this is an issue of great concern and represents a violation of the principles of international law, and the UN Resolution 1244.
For Serbia, Nato-led KFOR peacekeeping forces are the only legal military presence in Kosovo.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said earlier that the decision to form an army could lead to a military intervention, but according to analysts this is unlikely to happen.
The head of the Serbian office for Kosovo Marko Djuric, in a reaction following the vote, said that the decision to form the so-called "army of Kosovo" is an act against peace and an act of political aggression towards Serbia. According to Djuric, the army is illegal.
“We regret that this decision was made despite the concerns expressed by Nato,” Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. He reiterated that the decision is “ill-timed”.
“Nato supports the development of the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. With the change of mandate, the North Atlantic Council will now have to re-examine the level of Nato’s engagement with the KSF,” Stoltenberg said.
However, he added that Nato continues to support the EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina as the only lasting political solution for the region.