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American Forces Press Service

Work Remains as Balkans Progress, Stavridis Says

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2013 – It’s not yet time to take an eye off the Balkans, the top U.S. military commander in Europe wrote in a blog post today.

“It would be naïve to believe that all is suddenly sweetness and light in the Balkans,” wrote Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe. “And yet … there seems to be a genuine movement to the future and away from the past.”

The admiral noted he’s made a dozen trips to Kosovo during fours years in command, and the NATO force there -- which at its height in the 1990s numbered 50,000 -- has dropped since 2009 from 15,000 to 5,000.

Stavridis credited the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and NATO with setting the current conditions, under which “the volatile national actors have decided that instead of reaching for their rifles to resolve a dispute, they will reach for a telephone to call Brussels and initiate a dialog -- generally under the auspices of the European Union.”

Stavridis noted that under an agreement signed April 19 in Brussels, Serbia and Kosovo have committed to a 15-point plan to resolve tensions in northern Kosovo. NATO is committed to supporting the plan’s implementation, he added.

“Belgrade and Pristina have made clear that as they work for the implementation of the agreement, they see NATO as the guarantor of peace and security for all the people of Kosovo,” he said.

The next task is to negotiate “an implementing agreement dealing with complex issues of sovereignty, border management, the status of Serbian ethnics in northern Kosovo, authorities of Kosovo, and many other variables,” the admiral said. “Next week the two prime ministers will meet to continue the hard work.”

Stavridis, who is retiring and will be succeeded by Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said hard work remains in ensuring that war and violence don’t return to the Balkans.

“I'm proud of the role of NATO in keeping the peace in the Balkans,” he said. “I applaud the distance the region has come from the chaos and violence of the previous decade. But now is not the time to slack off, rather it is the time to maintain the intensity of our effort to make sure this one turns out well.”

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