Spain to withdraw from Kosovo mission

20th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The surprise announcement that Spain is pulling out its 630 troops from the international peacekeeping force has drawn criticism from NATO.

MADRID – Spain, which refuses to recognise Kosovo, abruptly announced Thursday that it will withdraw its 630 troops from the international peacekeeping force there, drawing criticism from NATO.

"Mission accomplished," Defence Minister Carme Chacon told Spanish troops with the NATO-led KFOR force during a surprise visit to Kosovo. "It's time to go home. We're going home, congratulations."

She told Spanish journalists accompanying her that the pullout would be carried out in stages by August and "in coordination with out allies".

In a veiled criticism of Spain's announcement, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned against any major troop reduction in Kosovo.

Scheffer "believes that any significant changes in the KFOR size or structure should take place as a result of a decision within the alliance when there is agreement that the political and the security conditions are in place," a spokeswoman said.

"And that moment has not yet come," she added.

Spain is one of five European Union countries that does not recognise Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it unilaterally declared on 17 February 2008. But Chacon did not explicitly link the pullout to Madrid's position on Kosovo.

Britain recognises Kosovo but has said it will significantly reduce its 167-strong troop contribution, as demand for forces in Afghanistan puts increasing pressure on the NATO allies.

Kosovo has been recognised by 56 nations, including the United States, while Serbia is backed by its ally Russia in opposing the move.

Chacon did not explicitly link the withdrawal of the troops to Spain's refusal to recognise Kosovo. Spain faces its own separatist campaigns in the Basque territory and Catalonia.

But the minister did not go to the Kosovo capital, Pristina, during the trip, unlike other Spanish leaders who have gone on visits. This avoided contacts with Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian government.

Her plane landed at the Djakoviva military based in northeast Kosovo, which is run by NATO. From there she went straight to the Spanish base at Istok, near the Albanian border.

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on 9 March, during a visit to Madrid by Serbian President Boris Tadic that Spain would never recognise an independent Kosovo.

NATO has been tasked by UN Security Council resolution 1244 with providing security in Kosovo, since it launched an air war in 1999 to stop a Serbian crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

KFOR remains a potent symbol and more cuts are unlikely to be welcomed in Kosovo.

Despite fears of a repeat of the conflict that prompted NATO to intervene with a bombing campaign against Serbian forces in 1999, Kosovo has only experienced sporadic violence, although analysts still consider it a tinderbox.

The EU has deployed a large police and justice mission to Kosovo to help chaperone it to full statehood, and while its police officers have a robust mandate, the bloc does not plan to send troops or even train local forces.

AFP / Expatica

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