4 Min Read
By Andrew Gray
WASHINGTON, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Predicting tough times ahead, the NATO commander in Kosovo called on Wednesday for clear guidance on how his force should act if the Serbian province declares independence as expected.
French Lt. Gen. Xavier de Marnhac also said the problem of tense relations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority would eventually reach a "biological end" as the average age of the Serbs was much older.
Ethnic Albanians and Serbs failed in three days of talks in Austria to reach an agreement on Kosovo's final status, mediators said on Wednesday. Leaders of the 90 percent Albanian majority are preparing to declare independence within months.
De Marnhac said his KFOR peacekeeping force was prepared for a rise in tensions but declared: "It's going to be tough and to expect to do that without breaking eggs, forget it. We will definitely break some eggs."
Speaking by videolink from Pristina, he said: "We need, from a military perspective, to have a very clear understanding on what is the international community intent here in Kosovo."
He said this was particularly true for the Serb-dominated north if Serbs and the Serbian government refused to accept the authority of an ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo government.
Western powers are widely expected to accept Kosovo independence under European Union supervision. But Belgrade, backed by Russia, insists Kosovo should remain part of Serbia.
The province, with a population of around 2 million, has been under U.N. administration since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end Serb repression of ethnic Albanians.
At the briefing organized by the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, de Marnhac said the Serbian government had exerted increasing influence in the administration of Serb areas of Kosovo.
He said it appeared Belgrade was considering "some kind of separate ruling of these areas."
De Marnhac also said he was worried there could be a gap in the capabilities of Kosovo's international police force while it made the transition from a U.N. to an EU mission.
"Any gap that might happen in the changing of the international police presence here in Kosovo is a major concern for me," he said.
Albanian riots erupted in Kosovo in March 2004, killing 19 people and catching NATO flat-footed.
Asked if he had requested more troops for his 16,000-strong force, de Marnhac said he could call on reserve forces outside Kosovo but had not done so yet. One such battalion was conducting mission rehearsals in Kosovo now, he said.
In his briefing, de Marnhac also noted the average age of Kosovo's Albanians was 28, while the figure for Serbs was 54.
"In the mid to long term there will be some kind of biological end to the problem here because, you know, one of the population(s) will simply disappear," he said. (Editing by David Wiessler)