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NATO prepares for possibility of new Balkan conflict

RIA Novosti

07/12/2007 17:26 BRUSSELS, December 7 (RIA Novosti) - NATO has stated that it will maintain its KFOR Kosovo peace force at present levels, and will supply new troops as necessary to counter any violence in the province, as Serbia spoke of "war" on Friday.

"KFOR shall remain in Kosovo on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 1244, unless the Security Council decides otherwise. We renew our commitment to maintain KFOR's national force, contributions, including reserves, at current levels," the NATO communique said after a meeting of foreign ministers of the 26-nation alliance.

Earlier in the day, at the start of the talks, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, told foreign ministers that, "We will act resolutely against anyone who seeks to resort to violence."

Scheffer's statement came after Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said Serbia had the right to use military force to defend its interests in Kosovo.

"The State has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the UN Security Council," he told Serbian state television.

"Serbia has had negative experiences from certain armed clashes during the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia, and this is why we are more prudent and cautious now, but, of course, state interests are defended by war," said Simic, who is a member of the Serb negotiating team.

The latest round of negotiations, held in Austria last week, failed to break the long-running deadlock over the province's status. The talks between Belgrade and Pristina, with Russia, the U.S. and the EU mediating, only saw Kosovo continue to insist on full independence with Serbia offering broad autonomy.

The UN has set December 10 as a deadline for the parties to reach an agreement. Kosovo has repeatedly said it will unilaterally declare independence if the UN fails to give its approval.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that there was a "logic" to Kosovo's independence, and other European states are also expected to announce their recognition of Kosovo's statehood in the event of the province declaring its independence.

The UN secretary general said Thursday that the troika of international mediators in talks on Kosovo would submit a report on talks on the province's status Friday, three days ahead of schedule. If, as expected, the report offers no new proposals for a solution to the Kosovo issue, the province could theoretically declare unilateral independence before waiting for the UN's December 10 deadline.

Russia, Serbia's long-time ally, has repeatedly warned that independence would serve as a precedent and could have a knock-on effect, provoking instability in other secessionist territories, including those in the former Soviet Union.

NATO foreign ministers spoke openly Friday of difficulties in current relations with Russia.

"This partnership has entered a challenging phase," ministers said in a communique, also saying that, "We value and want to continue our constructive and frank dialogue with Russia, including on issues on which we disagree."

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a bloody war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians in the region.

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