Germany extends Kosovo mission, reduces troops: Berlin

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Germany decided Tuesday to extend by one year its involvement in the NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo but to reduce its maximum troop levels in the force by 1,000, a government spokesman said.

Germany, currently the largest supplier of troops to the NATO force, with 1,500 soldiers on the ground, had previously capped its involvement at 3,500.

"The positive development of the situation on the ground and the build-up of independent security structures means we are able to reduce our upper limit to 2,500," government spokesman Christoph Steegmans told a regular briefing.

The mission will be extended until at least May 2011, Steegmans added.

During a visit to Kosovo in March, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg pledged that his country would not pull out of the mission unilaterally but called for a united approach to the reduction of troops.

NATO was deployed to Kosovo in 1999 after the alliance's air campaign against forces loyal to then Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, which were conducting a crackdown on the region's ethnic Albanian majority.

Last July, NATO decided to restructure KFOR following a comprehensive security assessment of the region and of Kosovo itself.

And in January the alliance downsized the number of KFOR's peacekeepers by 3,000 to 10,000.

The decision, taken in cabinet, must be approved in parliament, where it is expected to pass.

© 2010 AFP

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