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Thursday, November 09, 2006

NATO Flexes Muscles In Tense Kosovo

Agence France-Presse
Nov 9, 2006 - 4:30:22 AM

NATO-led forces in Kosovo (KFOR) began three days of military exercises Nov. 7 ahead of a decision on the future status of the tense southern Serbian province.

”KFOR will test the interoperability, sustainability and capabilities of its units,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement.

The operation — dubbed Balkan Hawk VI — would be carried out with an “emphasis on short-notice deployment of reserve forces and conduct of framework operations Kosovo-wide,” said the statement.

It comes only weeks ahead of the expected conclusion of United Nations-backed talks to determine the future status of Kosovo, whose ethnic-Albanian majority is seeking independence from Serbia.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since mid-1999, after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign drove out Serbian forces over a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian civilians.

The province remains tense more than seven years later, with ethnic Albanian frustrations over the long process occasionally flaring into violence.

NATO, which still has about 17,000 troops in Kosovo, was sharply criticized for failing to stop anti-Serbian riots there in March 2004.

In three days of violence, 19 people were killed, at least 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes and dozens of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries were destroyed or damaged.

KFOR said the exercise was being undertaken in order to provide a safe and secure environment for the population of Kosovo.

”The troops are ready to switch from exercise mode to operational mode in case of incidents or disasters,” it said.

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