BELGRADE – Kosovo launched a Defense Ministry on Monday in its first steps towards the creation of a national army amid widespread international criticism and escalating tensions with neighboring Serbia, Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj announced.
Haradinaj and the first ever Defense Minister for Kosovo, Rustem Berisha, unveiled a plaque for the newly created Ministry of Defense in a building that, up until now, had been the headquarters of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) in the capital, Pristina.
“With the symbolic unveiling of the plaque announcing the Ministry of Defense, Kosovo has formalized its institutional umbrella for the newest army in the world,” the prime minister announced on his Facebook page.
The Kosovar parliament approved the creation of an army on Dec. 14 in a plan that would see the 4,000-strong NATO-led paramilitary KSF transform into a moderate military force of 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reserve personnel over the course of a decade.
The KSF, so far, has been tasked with dealing primarily with natural disasters, but the new army would protect Kosovo’s territorial integrity, citizens, property and interests, Berisha said.
The move has been strongly condemned by NATO, which said the decision was ill-timed and threatened to further escalate tensions with Serbia, which does not recognize Kosovo as a state.
Belgrade said Kosovo’s defense policy was a direct threat to peace and stability in the region, adding that the plan violated international rules.
Kosovo is the second-youngest country in the world and is a state that is recognized by 113 members of the United Nations, although its sovereignty remains disputed with Serbia, from which it unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
The aftermath of the deadly 1998-99 armed conflict between the rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army and the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continues to strain daily co-existence between the majority population of ethnic Albanians (who are mostly Muslim) and the Serb minority (who adhere to a regional variant of Orthodox Christianity) in the landlocked territory.