Stoltenberg: Kosovo force important for the region and NATO

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Kosovo on Thursday and reassured local leaders that the international Kosovo Force will remain in place to secure regional peace and stability.

Stoltenberg was in the Kosovar capital Pristina where he was also to visit the NATO-led mission, known as KFOR, and show “NATO’s commitment to peace and stability in the Western Balkans.”

NATO has been leading KFOR since 1999, with more than 3,700 troops from 27 countries.

Stoltenberg said history has shown that the “KFOR mission is important not only for Kosovo and for the region, but also for NATO and for all NATO allies.”

He said that after Western forces presently complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan, for years NATO’s biggest operation, “KFOR will not only be the longest, but also the biggest NATO military operation.”

The 1998-99 war in the former Serbian province of Kosovo between ethnic Albanian independence fighters and Serbia left more than 10,000 dead and ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Belgrade has refused to accept that. While Kosovo has been recognized by the United States and most EU nations, Belgrade has relied on support from Russia and China in its bid to retain a claim on the territory.

In his meetings with Kosovo’s president, prime minister and an ethnic Serb minority politician, Stoltenberg said he had underlined the importance of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.

The EU-brokered dialogue resumed last month in Brussels. It is also strongly supported by the U.S.

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