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28th Jul 2017

EU to cut Bosnia troops despite Kosovo worries

  • EU troops in Bosnia - France warned that the union should stay on alert after any pull-out (Photo: Nato)

EU member states are likely to begin reducing troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina early next year, despite potential instability stemming from talks on the future status of nearby Kosovo.

"The decision...to start the transition towards a reduction of the level of forces [should be] taken in December, but the actual implementation of the transition [should start] in February," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

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The remarks, given at a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels on Monday (13 November) come after Germany and the UK last month announced they would like to reduce the number of soldiers in the region next year.

The EU has kept around 7,000 soldiers in Bosnia since December 2004, after it took over NATO's security mission in a country which saw some of the bloodiest fighting in the 1990's Balkan wars.

The task of the EU's force in Bosnia - EUFOR - is to "ensure continued compliance with the Dayton/Paris [peace] Agreement and to contribute to a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

The 1995 Dayton/Paris peace agreement put an end to a three and a half years of war in the country.

Security assessment needed

Mr Solana said that the final plans "would be based on the fact that the security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina allows this and that the capacity of the [Bosnian] authorities to deal with threats to security has increased."

But the EU's public plan to downsize in Bosnia comes at a time of potential instability in the region, with the UN security council expected to rule on the final status of nearby Kosovo - a UN-administered part of Serbia - in the first half of 2007.

French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie urged caution, telling reporters that EU withdrawal from Bosnia should be made only "on the condition that we [the EU] maintain the ability to return in force quickly if the region, especially Kosovo, becomes unstable".

Western diplomats fear that if the UN gives Kosovo some form of independence - as is widely expected - it could spark trouble in Bosnia's semi-autonomous Republika Srpska region, where the ethnic-Serb population has also called for sovereignty.

Kosovo status delayed

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers also meeting in Brussels on Monday welcomed the UN's decision to delay its recommendation on the future status of Kosovo in order to avoid enflaming tension ahead of Serbia's 21 January elections.

Ministers endorsed a decision by top UN envoy Marti Ahtisaari to present to his Kosovo proposals after January, with Mr Solana saying the pause would "give a chance...to see if a strong democratic government may come out in Serbia."

UN-led negotiations on Kosovo's future status between Belgrade and Pristina have not led to any accord so far, with the UN security council facing the prospect of settling the Kosovo status from above.

But not all EU member states are happy with Kosovo independence despite UK and US pressure for the move, with Spain fearing it could serve as a precedent for its own semi-autonomous Basque region.

EU worries remain

"Even conditional independence for Kosovo is unnaceptable," Spanish EU affairs minister Alberto Navarro said after Monday's meeting.

Meanwhile, enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn warned that "It's important at the same this [Kosovo status] should not be delayed much longer [after January 2007], because we can not leave Kosovo in limbo for a long time."

His comment comes after Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian prime minister Agim Ceku warned that if the UN does not proclaim independence next year, then local institutions will do it themselves.

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