President Hashim Thaci filed a draft law on turning the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army to the parliament on March 7, according to a notice on the presidency’s website.
Pristina has already been considering plans to create an army for some time, but the bill has sparked anger both from Belgrade and from Serbs within Kosovo. It is likely to prove a further setback for the normalisation process between Belgrade and Pristina, amid already heightened tensions since the beginning of this year and the approaching presidential elections in Serbia.
The new law envisages changes in the mission and new tasks that will turn the Kosovo Security Force into a modern and professional army.
“This legal initiative of mine for the advancement of the role and tasks of the Kosovo Security Force is necessary and done in order to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity, to maintain the peace and to protect the national interests of the Republic of Kosovo, and contributes to the building and maintenance of peace and regional and global stability,” the president said.
The peace support Nato-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) will continue its presence in Kosovo and there will be no implication on its mission and tasks, Thaci said. Currently, KFOR includes approximately 4,600 troops provided by 31 countries and continues to work towards maintaining a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens and communities in Kosovo.
However, the Kosovan president’s bill envisages expanding the Kosovo Security Force’s regular forces by 1,000 members to 5,000, and the number of its reserve forces by 500 members to 3,000, VOA reported.
Thaci indicated that the name of the force might remain the same, saying that he likes the name Kosovo Security Force, which is “very appropriate for the army of Kosovo”.
According to Thaci, his move to create an army is constitutional and needed in order to launch Kosovo’s Nato membership process. “The neighbouring countries which have their own armies must understand this transformation of the Kosovo Security Force into an army, as a perfectly normal step of a sovereign and independent state,” he added.
However, the president acknowledged that his move comes after lawmakers representing the Serb community in Kosovo have stated repeatedly they would never vote for constitutional amendments that would enable the establishment of the Kosovo Armed Forces.
Serbian officials have also voiced strong opposition to the bill. In Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is also a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, was quoted by the Associated Press as telling a rally that "Serbia will never agree with the formation of Kosovo's army”.
Thaci and Vucic had a telephone call on March 7, with both sides later issuing official statements saying they had agreed that dialogue is of crucial importance for maintaining peace and stability in the region. However, Serbian public broadcaster Radio-elevizija Srbije (RTS) reported that the two leaders had a fierce verbal confrontation over the plans to establish a Kosovan army.
Both official Belgrade and Serbs who live in Kosovo see Nato’s KFOR mission as the only guarantee of their security.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbia will use all political means to prevent Kosovo from forming a regular army. According to him, Pristina's "unilateral moves" fuel instability in the region.
The move is also likely to put an additional strain on the Kosovan governing coalition, which includes ministers from the Serb List representing Kosovo’s Serb minority.
Thaci’s move was opposed by Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister, Branimir Stojanovic, an ethnic Serb, who told Radio Free Europe that changing the mandate of the Kosovo Security Force would be unconstitutional and that Serbian representatives want the constitution to be respected on the matter. He added that the president has not discussed the bill with ethnic Serb leaders.
Back in 2015, Serb List MPs blocked plans by the Kosovan government to submit draft constitutional amendments to the parliament to pave the way to create the army.