Kosovo's NATO-led peacekeepers moved troops through the Serb-dominated north yesterday, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent reported, amid high tensions with Serbia on the eve of a vote to create a Kosovo army.
A spokesman for the international NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), which guarantees the security of the former Serbian province, confirmed the deployment yesterday and told AFP it was part of "normal exercises all around Kosovo."
"We have a couple of convoys moving around. One of them is going today to the north," said KFOR spokesman Vincenzo Grasso, adding that there was no reason for alarm.
About 50 KFOR vehicles moved through the city of Mitrovica and headed north in the direction of Leposavic, a mostly Serb municipality, AFP said.
The top local official in Leposavic municipality confirmed troops were in the village of Dren yesterday morning. "They are heavily armed and equipped to prevent demonstrations," Zoran Todic added.
The movement comes as lawmakers in Kosovo prepare to vote today to transform the lightly-armed domestic Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a regular army. Though that process could take years, Serbian politicians maintain that a Kosovo army could be used to expel the remaining minority Serbs from Kosovo, an accusation denied by Kosovar leaders who rely on EU and U.S. support in reforms and development of the impoverished, small Balkan state.
Pristina has struggled to exercise its authority in Serb enclaves that still pledge allegiance to Belgrade. In 2012, there were violent riots in northern Kosovo after Pristina authorities sent police to take control of two border crossings with Serbia.
The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by NATO troops still stationed there nearly two decades after the end of the war. KFOR, which has more than 4,000 troops, has been deployed in Kosovo since the end of the 1998-99 war between Serb forces and Kosovo Albanian separatists, which left more than 13,000 dead. NATO warned earlier it would have to reassess its security mission in Kosovo if Pristina goes ahead with plans to create its own army. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Kosovo's plan was "ill-timed," went against the advice of many NATO countries and would have "serious repercussions."