BRUSSELS — NATO ministers pledged on Friday to keep their KFOR peace force in Kosovo at current strength as the Serbian province heads towards independence and to make more troops available as necessary to deal with any violence.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders are expected to declare independence in the next few months after the failure of international mediation, a move that could lead to new unrest in the Balkans.
“KFOR shall remain in Kosovo on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolution 1244, unless the Security Council decides otherwise,” ministers agreed in a final communique.
“We renew our commitment to maintain KFOR’s national force, contributions, including reserves, at current levels and with no new caveats,” they added, using the military term for limits that nations sometimes impose on what their troops can do.
Such caveats meant NATO was caught badly off-guard during rioting in north Kosovo in 2004 which it struggled to control. The alliance has up to four reserve battalions — each with several hundred troops — on standby for trouble.
A “troika” of U.S., Russian and European mediators has failed to secure agreement between Pristina and Belgrade over Kosovo. A Western diplomat told Reuters they would deliver their report to the United Nations on Friday, three days before a Dec. 10 deadline for a deal.
The envoy said the report prescribed no way forward on the fate of the breakaway province, reflecting differences between the West and Serb ally Russia. “It should be delivered today,” he said. “It is very factual, describes what was done, and what the outcome was.”
“Clearly Washington, Russia and the European Union cannot agree on a joint way forward,” he told Reuters.
Washington and most European Union states are likely to recognize a declaration of independence by Kosovo, and are confident that its leaders will wait until around late January to enable NATO and the European Union to prepare for it.
“We will have a lot of white-knuckle days ahead of us, I am more confident than I was six months ago that we will all be together in the end,” the official said.