Kosovo parliament to vote to form new army, angering Serbia

Kosovo's parliament is convening to approve the formation of an army, a move that has angered Serbia which says it would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

The 120-seat parliament on Friday will vote on three laws to turn the existing 4,000-member Kosovo Security Force into a regular, lightly armed army. Ethnic Serb lawmakers are expected to boycott the vote.

Serbia fears the move's main purpose is to ethnically cleanse Kosovo's Serbian-dominated north, something strongly denied by Pristina.

In a sign of defiance, Serbs in the north displayed Serbian flags on streets and balconies while NATO-led peacekeepers deployed on a bridge in the ethnically divided northern town of Mitrovica.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also is to visit Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo in an apparent saber-rattling move

The U.S. Ambassador in Pristina, Philip S. Kosnett met on Thursday with the KSF commander "to underscore the U.S. Government's commitment to the KSF's evolution as a defensive force serving all of Kosovo's communities and reflective of the country's multi-ethnic character."

"Let's remember that a country's security depends on the quality of its security relationships — and peaceful, mutually beneficial relations with its neighbors — as much as on the strength and professionalism of its armed forces," he tweeted Friday.

The new army will preserve its former name — Kosovo Security Force — but now with a new mandate. In about a decade the army will have 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists, essentially operating as a security force handling crisis response and civil protection operations.

Kosovo's 1998-199 war ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999 that stopped a Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo's 2008 independence isn't recognized by Serbia.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania; Dusan Stojanovic from Belgrade, Serbia contributed.

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