NATO to cut troops in Kosovo despite unrest – Rasmussen

NATO will stick to plans to scale down its military presence in Kosovo, despite recent unrest there, alliance Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Wednesday.

On Aug 25, seven people were wounded in northern Kosovo when minority Serbs and Albanians clashed in the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica.

A hand grenade was detonated and the two groups briefly traded small-arms fire, police said. In the capital Pristina, dozens of protesters led by an ethnic Albanian nationalist group rallied against the EU executive presence, damaging 24 EU vehicles.

“Despite the unfortunate incidents, I don’t think the overall security situation has changed,” Rasmussen told a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

“So we will stick to the decision already taken that we will reduce the number of KFOR troops from a level of 15,000 to a level of 10,000 at the beginning of next year. I think the overall security situation has improved and the conditions are fulfilled that we can take that step…I think the overall security situation is quite satisfactory.”

Last month’s violence broke out after Serbs from the ethnically mixed neighbourhood rallied to protest against the rebuilding of Albanian houses destroyed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.

In April, dozens of people including a French peacekeeper were wounded when local Serbs fought international peacekeepers and police to protest against housing development.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, nine years after a NATO-led air war forced Serbian security forces out of the area, ending Belgrade’s crackdown against ethnic Albanians.

Following Kosovo’s independence declaration, the European Union deployed a police, customs and judiciary mission called Eulex to replace a United Nations mission.

NATO aims to cuts its troop presence to a little more than 2,000 over two years, although Rasmussen stressed that each further reduction would follow a thorough analysis of the security situation to ensure there was no negative impact in Kosovo or the region. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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