Kosovo PM welcomes NATO plans to reduce troops

By Simon Cameron-Moore ISTANBUL (BestGrowthStock) – The prime minister of Kosovo welcomed NATO plans to reduce troop levels by two-thirds this year as a sign of confidence in the security of the Balkan country two years after it declared independence from Serbia.

Speaking to Reuters on Friday during a visit to Turkey, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci also voiced optimism that the International Court of Justice would endorse Kosovo’s declaration of independence in a ruling expected this summer.

Greater stability in the region is key to attracting foreign investment and trade, and also an important prerequisite for closer ties with the European Union.

“I expect an opinion that will be the start of a new epoch, a new era for Kosovo,” Thaci said, adding that it would pave the way for eventual membership of the United Nations and European Union, and usher in a new phase in relations with Serbia.

During a visit to Kosovo on Friday, NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Ramussen said their security mission known as KFOR had already reduced its contingent in Kosovo this January to 10,000 from previous 15,000, and would continue the reduction.

Ramussen said the force may soon have 5,700 troops that will be later reduced to only 2,000, but that “no steps will be taken until we feel confident that the security situation allows it.”

NO TALKS WITH SERBIA

In 1999 a NATO bombing campaign drove Serb forces out of the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian, Muslim province.

Serbia had asked the ICJ in The Hague to review the legality of Kosovo’s independence, and continues to subsidize ethnic Serbs, who mostly live in enclaves in the north of the country and make up less than five percent of its 2 million population.

The Kosovar premier denied speculation that his government was holding back channel talks with Serbia, saying that the only talks that could take place would be as one state to another.

“With regards to statements that have been circulated by and from Belgrade that there will be talks about Kosova’s status; They can forget about it,” Thaci said.

Turning to the economy, Thaci said his government expected to reach agreement soon with the International Monetary Fund to obtain a loan and enter a programme.

He declined to give details on the prospective stand-by loan, though Kosovo’s finance minister said last month the amount would total 110 million euros ($137.5 million).

Thaci said his country, one of the poorest in Europe with 48 percent unemployment, had felt limited impact from nearby Greece’s economic crisis, and investors had not pulled out.

He said Kosovo had pressed on with major projects, including the building of a major highway, and the award of concessions for Pristina international airport, reform of the energy sector and plans for privatization of post and telecommunications.

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(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, editing by Adam Tanner and Reed Stevenson)

Kosovo PM welcomes NATO plans to reduce troops