NATO asks more troops for Kosovo

AFP , Tuesday 2 Aug 2011

NATO asks for backup troops to better control unrest in Kosovo

NATO has asked for troop reinforcements for Kosovo, a spokesman said Tuesday, deying the demand was linked to the recent unrest in the volatile north.

"We can control the situation (in the north), we have enough troops. It is not because of our inability to control the situation. Our soldiers deployed on the ground will need some relief ... and we need (new troops) to back up the soldiers," as reserves, KFOR spokesman Hans Dieter Wichter told AFP.

NATO's KFOR mission currently has over 5,900 soldiers on the ground and Wichter said they asked for a reinforcement of a battalion, usually around 500 troops.

A NATO official in Brussels confirmed to AFP that it had issued "the activation order for the KFOR operational reserve" of a battalion-size unit of several hundred soldiers.

"The deployment will take place over the course of the coming days," the official said. The source would not say where the additional troops were coming from.

Unrest flared in Kosovo last week when the ethnic Albanian Kosovo government ordered police to seize control of two border crossings in northern Kosovo.

Pristina said this was needed to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia which was not being respected by ethnic Serb members of Kosovo's border police on the border with Serbia. In the resulting clashes one ethnic Albanian police officer was killed.

NATO troops stepped in when a border post in Kosovo was set on fire and bulldozed, apparently by ethnic Serbs.

Angry Kosovo Serbs have been blocking the roads leading to the crossing for several days and vowed to remain at the barricades until a solution was found.

Kosovo banned imports from Serbia in response to the same move by Belgrade in 2008, the date the ethnic Albanian majority unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia.

EU envoy Robert Cooper met with Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci in Pristina Tuesday, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Cooper was sent from Brussels to mediate between the Kosovo and Serbian authorities following the recent unrest.

On Monday Cooper met Serbia's top negotiator Borko Stefanovic and minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic.

Stefanovic said Monday's talks with Cooper were "difficult and complicated" adding that the Serbian side "expressed the legitimate demands of (Serb) citizens to restore things back to the situation before the crisis," Beta news agency reported.

"We want to enable free movement of people and get back to dialogue... but the crisis has to be solved in the way we demanded," Beta quoted Stefanovic as saying while addressing Serbs on a barricade in northern Kosovo.

The disputed border crossings are seen as vital by many Kosovo Serbs as they provide a link with Serbia on which northern Kosovo almost exclusively relies for supplies of food and medicine. Over the weekend the first reports emerged of food shortages in some northern Kosovo towns.

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