German general takes over KFOR command in Kosovo
German Lieutenant General Markus Bentler took over Tuesday the command of NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR). In a ceremony held in KFOR main headquarters in Pristina, Bentler took over the office from his processor Italian general Giuseppe Emilio Gay, becoming the 14th commander of KFOR ever since the international forces took over control in the breakaway southern Serbian province in June 1999. Gay said that as a sign of KFOR successful performance, the mission is beginning to move forward in the next phase of recognizing that the situation is improving. “The gradual reduction of NATO does not mark the end of our engagement, but the aim is to confirm the big progress we have achieved,” said Gay, adding that KFOR would continue to provide safety, security and freedom of movement to all citizens of Kosovo. General Bentler said that cooperation with institutions in Kosovo and international missions must continue. “We have to ensure a secure livelihood with a reduced staff and it will be a challenge for me,” Bentler said. Commander Joint Force Command Naples Admiral Mark Fitzgerald said at the ceremony that, in coordination with international partners and local institutions, KFOR would continue to provide support to all Kosovo citizens in creating a peaceful and stable environment, encouraging economic development and a free and democratic society. The change of command occurs at a time of significant KFOR reduction of troops announcements in the territory. NATO has made clear they intend a significant reduction of troops in the next two years. At the end of this year there will remain 10,000 troops from actual 13,829 peacekeepers serving now in Kosovo. KFOR, which at its height numbered 55,000, is expected to be reduced to a little more than 2,000 although no specific time frame is proposed. Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu decorated Gay with a golden medal for his military service in Kosovo. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority unilaterally declared independence in February 2008, which has been recognized by 62 countries including the United States and most European Union members. Serbia and its strong ally Russia, a permanent UN Security Council member with veto rights, have said they will not recognize an independent Kosovo.