US official calls on Kosovo to retract law on creating army

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A senior United States official called on Kosovo leaders Wednesday to retract a draft law on the transformation of its security force into a regular army and to continue consultations on the issue with the country’s ethnic minorities.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee urged the government in Pristina during a visit to Kosovo to “take the law off the table.”

“We would like the government to make a step back and take the law off the table,” Yee said in an interview with public broadcaster RTK.

Earlier this month, President Hashim Thaci sent a draft law to parliament seeking approval to form a regular army. Unlike constitutional amendments, the law does not require voting approval from Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs and other minorities.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Serbia refuses to recognize.

NATO and the United States have warned they would scale back military cooperation with Kosovo if the government transformed its lightly armed security force into an army without amending the Constitution.

The Western military alliance has helped train Kosovo’s security force.

Yee repeated that Washington thinks “the transformation should be made with constitutional amendments.”

He also urged Kosovo’s political parties to approve the border demarcation agreement with neighboring Montenegro.

Kosovo, a potential candidate for European Union membership, remains the only country in the western Balkans whose citizens need to apply for visas when traveling to EU member countries. Brussels has said Kosovans may enjoy visa-free travel to Schengen member countries, if the Montenegro deal is approved.

“Don’t delay the issue any more. Vote the agreement. Take the necessary steps to advance toward EU, toward NATO,” Yee urged Kosovo politicians.

Opposition parties have vowed to disrupt any attempt by the governing coalition to ratify the deal, signed two years ago. They say that Kosovo loses territory with the deal.

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