NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer (file photo) (AFP)
8 December 2005 -- NATO has said it will remain a "robust" force in Kosovo during UN-mediated talks on the future status of the breakaway Serbian province.
NATO foreign ministers issued a statement in Brussels on 8 December urging ethnic Albanians and Serbs to complete those talks successfully.
The alliance's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, told reporters that any party using violence would meet a "strong response" from the 17,000 NATO troops in Kosovo.
Kosovo has been under UN administration since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown on Kosovar Albanians in the province.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanians want an independent Kosovo. Serbs see Kosovo as the cradle of their civilization, and say it should remain part of Serbia.
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
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