Kosovo's government has approved a draft law to gradually transform the country's security forces.
Rustem Berisha, minister of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), told a September 13 cabinet meeting that the proposed law "determines the competences, organization, and functioning of the KSF as a multiethnic, professional force, protecting the territorial integrity of the interests of Kosovo citizens.'
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said that any step to transform the KSF will be done "in line with our strategic partners in NATO, especially the U.S.'
Kosovo has long sought to turn the country's security forces into a national army, despite bitter opposition from Serbia and from the ethnic Serb minority in the northern part of the country. The plan has also failed to win support from Kosovo's Western partners.
The U.S. Embassy in Kosovo said it was 'not consulted on the timing of this announcement" and will have to "analyze the draft laws to understand their purpose and effect.'
It also said that its recent efforts have been concentrated on normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which it considers "the most important step for progress in the near future.'
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade, backed by Russia, refuses to recognize Kosovo as a state.
In a statement e-mailed to RFE/RL, a NATO official said that "any change in the structure, mandate, and mission" of the KSF will require constitutional amendments, adding that the alliance supports the development of the force "under its current mandate."
Lawmaker Igor Simic of the Serbian List that represents Kosovar Serbs warned that the party will reject any plan to form a Kosovar army.
"The only legal military formation in Kosovo, according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, is KFOR," the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in the country, Simic said.
Ahead of the government's decision, Kosovar President Hashim Thaci welcomed the idea of creating a national army, but only in partnership with NATO and the country's allies.
"I think that proceeding with the issue today is the wrong moment because we do not need to send such a message to our allies," he also said.
A year ago, Thaci withdrew draft legislation on creating a national army that required approval from Kosovo's ethnic minorities, following international pressure.
At that time, Kosovo's ethnic Serbs said they wouldn't back the change.
Washington and the Western alliance warned that they would reduce military cooperation if Kosovo converted its lightly armed, NATO-trained security forces into a regular army without changing the constitution and consulting all groups.
With reporting by AP and Balkan Insight RFE/RL's Balkan Service
RFE/RL's Balkan Service promotes the values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in a region where genuine media freedom remains elusive and where many media outlets remain divided along ethnic lines.
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