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US Denies Serbian Allegations of Turning Kosovo into NATO-Puppet State

The commander of U.S. troops in Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province has denied Serbian accusations that the United States is planning to turn the province into a NATO-puppet state.

Brigadier General Douglas Earhart told reporters Thursday in Kosovo that NATO is in the province on a peacekeeping mission.

Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said Thursday that if the United States wants normal relations with Serbia, it should give up independence plans for Kosovo and its plans to create a NATO state there.

The province has been under United Nations administration since 1999, after NATO air strikes halted Serbia's deadly crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

About 16,000 NATO-led international peacekeepers are stationed in Kosovo.

Representatives of the Serb minority in Kosovo said they have sent an official request to Belgrade for a return of Serbian security forces to the province.

A diplomatic troika of envoys from the U.S., European Union and Russia visited Belgrade and Pristina last week to pave the way for a new round of talks on the final status of the contested province.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership insists on independence from Serbia. Belgrade strongly opposes independence for the province.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.