Turkey blocks NATO effort in Kosovo

World

Turkey is blocking a NATO plan to help launch and train a fledgling Kosovo security force, in the latest setback for troubled international efforts in the territory, diplomats said.

The European Union conceded last month that its separate plan to train Kosovo's police forces was months behind schedule because of a diplomatic logjam in the United Nations, where Russia has resisted Kosovo's February 17 secession from Serbia.

The new dispute stems from Turkish concerns over NATO cooperation with the EU in Kosovo. Ankara fears this will mean sharing sensitive military information with non-NATO Cyprus, the island at the centre of decades of Turkish-Greek tension.

“We would like to get this resolved before defense ministers meet next week,” one alliance diplomat said, adding that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was leading efforts to find a compromise before the June 12 meeting in Brussels.

NATO officials stressed the dispute did not jeopardize the continued presence of some 16,500 NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, and related only to long-held alliance plans to take on new tasks there, chiefly military training.

That was due to entail NATO overseeing the dissolution of Kosovo's existing civil emergency force, the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), and the creation of a 2,500-strong, lightly armed Kosovo Security Force (KSF) in its place.

Diplomats familiar with Turkey's position said Ankara was insisting a revised NATO operational plan refer explicitly to a six-year-old pact with the EU that allows only limited cooperation between the two bodies.

“They say we should respect the existing agreement,” one diplomat said of Ankara's insistence that cooperation with the EU be guided by the “Berlin Plus” agreement of 2002, under which the EU can draw on NATO military assets in defined cases.

A NATO spokesman declined to comment on the dispute, saying only that discussions on revisions to NATO's operational plan in Kosovo continued at military and political level.

Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus have long held back security cooperation between NATO and the EU, but the issue has come to the head with the EU launching presences alongside the Western military pact in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Aside from protests in March, majority ethnic-Albanian Kosovo has been broadly calm since its Western-backed declaration of independence from Serbia in February.

But international arrangements to guide the territory towards stability and statehood have run into resistance.

Serb ally Russia has so far prevented the existing UN mission in Kosovo from formally handing over to the EU's planned 2,200-strong EULEX mission to train police forces there.

EU officials hope UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will announce a compromise in the next few days that will allow them to get the mission up and running, although they acknowledge it is far from being able to start next week as originally planned.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, told reporters on Friday he expected full deployment some time over the summer, while diplomats say late September is a realistic date. (Reuters)

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