The Latest: NATO chief denounces Kosovo army move

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The Latest on Kosovo’s vote to create an army (all times local):

12:35 p.m.

The NATO secretary-general says he regrets a Kosovo move to turn its security force into a regular army.

Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that Friday’s decision by Kosovo parliament to start the transition “was made despite the concerns expressed by NATO.”

Stoltenberg says “the transition of the Kosovo Security Force is in principle a matter for Kosovo to decide, we have made clear that this move is ill-timed.”

Stoltenberg says NATO supports the development of the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate, but with its change the alliance “will now have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force.”

He reiterated his call on both Pristina and Belgrade “to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which may lead to escalation.”

NATO peacekeepers were deployed in Kosovo in 1999 when Serbia lost control of its former province after a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

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12:20 p.m.

Germany says a vote to approve the formation of a Kosovo army must not be used to escalate tensions in the region.

Kosovo’s parliament on Friday approved the move, which has angered Serbia. German Foreign Ministry spokesman Rainer Breul said “Kosovo, as a sovereign state, has the right to create regular armed forces.”

But he noted Berlin has always made clear that the transformation of the existing Kosovo Security Force “should not be overhasty, but an inclusive process involving the Kosovo Serb minority and in close consultation above all with NATO and the NATO allies.”

Breul underlined the need for Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations. He said: “We appeal to both sides to exert restraint. The approval of the laws must not be used as a pretext for further escalation.”

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12:10 p.m.

The United States has hailed Kosovo’s parliamentary vote to form a new army as a first step and reaffirmed “its support for the gradual transition … to a force with a territorial defense mandate, as is Kosovo’s sovereign right.”

Kosovo’s parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

A U.S. Embassy statement in Pristina urged Kosovo to continue “close coordination with NATO allies and partners and to engage in outreach to minority communities.”

The statement also said “regional stability requires that Kosovo make genuine efforts to normalize relations with its neighbor Serbia, and we encourage both sides to take immediate steps to lower tensions and create conditions for rapid progress on dialogue.”

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11:50 a.m.

Serbia’s prime minister says the formation of an army in Kosovo goes against efforts at stability in the volatile Balkans.

Ana Brnabic said Friday that “Serbia will try to continue on the path of peace and stability, the road of prosperity.” Brnabic adds that “we should sit down and talk about building a better future.”

“Today is not the day that contributes to cooperation and stability in the region,” she added.

Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and has been fiercely opposed to the formation of the Kosovo army, saying it threatens the Serb minority.

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11:30 a.m.

Kosovo’s parliament has overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

All 107 lawmakers present in the 120-seat parliament on Friday voted in favor of passing three draft laws to turn the existing 4,000-strong Kosovo Security Force into a regular, lightly armed army.

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10 a.m.

Kosovo’s parliament is convening to approve the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

The 120-seat parliament on Friday will vote on three laws to turn an existing 4,000-member Kosovo Security Force into a regular lightly armed army. Ethnic Serb lawmakers were expected to boycott the vote.

Serbia fears the move’s main purpose is to ethnically cleanse Kosovo’s Serbian-dominated north, something strongly denied by Pristina.

Kosovo’s 1998-199 war ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999 that stopped a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo’s 2008 independence isn’t recognized by Serbia.

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