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Serbia Calls For Return of Its Security Troops to Kosovo

Serbia has called for the return of its army and police to the breakaway Kosovo province after an eight-year absence.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Kostunica, Aleksandar Simic, said Friday that the time has come for the return of Serbian security personnel to Kosovo, where 90 percent of two million residents are ethnic Albanians.

Under a United Nations resolution passed in 1999, Serbia has a right to keep about 1,000 army and police troops in Kosovo to protect Serbian cultural heritage there. But NATO-led international peacekeepers have not permitted their redeployment for fear of renewed violence.

Belgrade and Pristina have agreed to another round of negotiations over the future status of the contested province. Kosovo's Albanian leaders insist on independence and Serbia refuses to give up sovereignty over the region.

Simic said it is clear that Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are not ready to negotiate for a compromise solution. He added that the only force that can make them negotiate is the United States.

Some Serbian politicians have accused the United States of planning to create a NATO-puppet state in Kosovo. The commander of U.S. troops in Kosovo denied that allegation on Thursday, saying NATO is in Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission.

Serbia's southern province has been under U.N. administration since 1999. Some 16,000 NATO-led international peacekeepers are deployed there. Serbia is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which is the first step to a membership in the alliance