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NATO to scale down Kosovo force

Associated Press / June 12, 2009
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BRUSSELS - NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo will be cut as the security situation there improves, the alliance said yesterday.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the alliance's defense ministers decided at their annual meeting that the 14,000-member force in Kosovo will gradually be drawn down to 10,000.

Besides Kosovo, the antipiracy mission off Somalia's coastline also figured prominently on the agenda, he said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been decreasing its military contingent in Kosovo ever since the brief war with Serbia 10 years ago, when it deployed 50,000 troops to the province. Kosovo declared independence last year despite strong opposition from Belgrade.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned that a unified alliance stance was needed in scaling back in Kosovo: "My concern is that we do this in an organized and coherent fashion as an alliance, and not countries leaving unilaterally."

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said the recent deployment of a 2,500-strong EU police mission and the expansion of Kosovo's own security force to about 2,500 by this fall will allow NATO to start scaling down its force by the start of next year.