As the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo heads for resolution of its uncertain status after seven years as a United Nations protectorate, a U.N. study says the territory should have a multi-ethnic defense force.
Retired British Brigadier General Tony Welch says that, assuming Kosovo becomes independent, it will need a small defense force. General Welch, with long experience in peacekeeping in the Balkans, says it would be a mistake to transform the 5,000 - strong national guard, a former guerrilla force called the Kosovo Protection Corps, into a national army. He says the size of a defense force should be limited.
"We are suggesting no more than 2,500 people in all [to be the national defense force], very small, to be recruited from across the population of Kosovo, with no bars ethnically to anyone, no bars to current members of the Kosovo Protection Corps applying for posts within the defense force, but no right to posts within the defense force," said General Welch.
General Welch says the Kosovo defense force should be trained and equipped by NATO, which is currently responsible for security in Kosovo. Upon creation of a national army, General Welch says, the almost exclusively ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Protection Corps should be disbanded.
The full report on Kosovo's security arrangements will be released in December. Its contents were previewed at a forum hosted by Washington's U.S. Institute of Peace.
Kosovo's former administrator, Soren Jessen-Petersen, a fellow at the institute, says stability in Kosovo and the wider Balkan region is contingent on an early determination of Kosovo's status.
The United Nations envoy in charge of status negotiations is expected to present his report, likely calling for conditional independence, in late January. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, an outcome rejected by Serbia.
Jessen-Petersen says economic recovery in the province requires clarity on status.
"There are many reasons why we need status [determination]," said Soren Jessen-Petersen. "We need it without any further delay. But, certainly when you look at what are the biggest security concerns - economy and unemployment - they require status. They require clarity. Let us get it done sooner rather than later."
Jessen-Petersen says delay is the greatest threat to regional security. Other participants said Kosovo will be secure only when minority Serbs are secure. A repeat of the anti-Serb riots of 2004, they said, would be disastrous.