New NATO chief to visit Kosovo

KOSOVO

New NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is set to make his first official trip Thursday to Kosovo, where he hopes to gradually diminish the alliance presence to a small reaction force or pull out completely.

Rasmussen is expected to hold meetings with Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Emilio Gay, head of the alliance’s Kosovo Force, or KFOR, peacekeeping mission in the former Serbian republic, NATO announced in a statement Wednesday.

When he took office, succeeding predecessor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer this month, former Danish PM Rasmussen announced that one of the priorities of his four-year term was “to see KFOR reduced to just a small reaction force, or out altogether.”

“I believe that the conditions will, in the foreseeable future, be right to retire KFOR with success,” he said at the time, without setting a precise timeframe.

Hefty agenda

The NATO chief will be able to get opinions from people on the ground during his trip, which will also include talks with local political leaders and a visit to KFOR units at their northern headquarters in Novo Selo.

In June, NATO announced plans to cut the KFOR mission to 10,000 troops, from the current 13,800, by January, and to some 2,500 personnel over two years if a series of benchmarks are met. That was after Scheffer announced that the security situation had improved in the newly independent state.

Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in February 2008. Its statehood is rejected as illegal by Serbia and opposed by Russia.

According to NATO, KFOR deployed 13,829 troops from 33 countries in early June. The biggest contingents are the Germans, with more than 2,000 troops, followed by the Italians, Americans and French, which each have more than 1,000 soldiers deployed there.

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