Kosovo's Thaci stakes presidency on army bill

Kosovo's Thaci stakes presidency on army bill
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia March 13, 2017

Kosovan President Hashim Thaci has threatened to quit if a bill transforming the country’s security force into an army is not approved by the parliament. 

Thaci filed the draft law on March 7, sparking strong criticism not only from perennial foe Serbia, with whom it fought a war of independence in the 1990s, but also from Nato, the US and Western European countries, as well as Kosovan opposition figures. 

The main controversy over Thaci’s attempted move is that he wants the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army to take place through a law, not through a constitutional amendment as originally planned. A change to the constitution would require the approval of the Serb List that represents Kosovo’s Serb minority and has opposed the creation of Kosovo army since 2014. On the other hand, a law can be passed without the Serb List’s approval.

On March 10, Thaci told public broadcaster RTK that he did not “want to lead a country that does not vote in favour of the establishment of its own army”. “If this assembly does not vote in favour [of the army bill], I will immediately resign from my position,” he said. 

“I think that any parliament that does not vote for [the creation of] its own army should go home,” he added.

Referring to Serb lawmakers, Thaci told RTK: “There will be no step back. The KSF [Kosovo Security Force] will become an army, with or without them.”

Despite the criticism from the international community, Thaci insisted that his move was not designed to catch anyone by surprise. “The Kosovo army will be established in coordination with relevant international stakeholders,” he said. “They have been consulted and informed during the entire process. Earlier, I informed and consulted also with [the ruling] coalition and speaker of parliament,” Kosovo’s president said, adding that the “issue should be closed once for all”.

After Thaci’s interview, US Ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, tweeted: “The US believes Kosovo's security depends on the quality of its partnerships. We don't want to see Kosovo out of step with key partners.”

The strong opposition from Nato and the US could weaken support for the bill even among ethnic Albanian lawmakers. Arben Gashi, an MP from the Democratic League of Kosovo, the coalition partner of Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), was quoted by Radio Free Europe as saying, "The United States is very important for Kosovo and its people… As for Hashim Thaci, he can easily be replaced."

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.

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 previously. 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.