Kosovo, BiH on agenda of informal EU defence ministers’ meeting

SVETLAphoto.jpgA two-day informal meeting of EU defence ministers ended in the northern Finnish ski resort of Levi on Tuesday (October 3rd). The focus was on civil-military co-ordination, capabilities and the bloc’s crisis management operations.

Specific issues discussed included a proposal for the deployment of an EU police mission in Kosovo and the possible transformation of the Union’s ongoing operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

France proposed that an up to 1,000-strong police mission be sent to Kosovo after the province’s status issue has been resolved, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed EU official. The force, which would replace the current UN police force there, would include members of the six-nation European gendarmerie established earlier this year, as well as judges and other law-enforcement officers.

“It will be a big mission,” Reuters quoted the official as saying. “They will be armed and have powers to arrest.”

Still legally part of Serbia, Kosovo has been under UN administration since the end of the 1998-1999 conflict in the province. Direct, UN-led talks between Belgrade and Pristina began in February, but the two sides remain as far apart as they were at the start of the negotiations.

If the talks fail to yield a negotiated settlement, resolving the Kosovo issue will be up to the UN Security Council. The UN’s special envoy for the status process, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, has been asked to propose a solution and is expected to do so by November.

Ahtisaari briefed the EU defence ministers on the negotiations late Monday.

During their meeting in Levi, the defence ministers also discussed the future of the bloc’s operation in BiH, praising the country for its successful general elections Sunday. Changes reportedly being considered for the EU-led force, which replaced NATO’s SFOR in 2004, include downsizing it to about 1,500 troops. It currently numbers 6,000.

In addition, the focus of the operation would likely shift to civilian matters, such as police activities.

“There is already quite a strong civilian element to EU operations there, so it should not be too complicated,” Finnish defence ministry spokesman Jyrki Iivonen said on Monday.

The Levi meeting was chaired by Finnish Defence Minister Seppo Kaariainen, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency. It was attended by the Union’s security chief, Javier Solana, as well as by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

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