Kosovo's president said he will resign and force a parliamentary election if lawmakers do not approve his proposal to create a national army over the objections of Kosovo's Western allies and minority ethnic Serbs.
"If [members of parliament] will not vote in favor, I will resign as president that second," President Hashim Thaci, whose former political party is the biggest in parliament, told state television channel RTK in an evening interview on March 10.
"A legislature that will not vote for the army of its own country should go home," he said, adding that he will overcome objections from NATO allies by coordinating the plan "100 percent" with them.
The plan to replace Kosovo's lightly armed security forces with a regular army has drawn strong objections from the country's ethnic Serb minority, whose delegates in parliament have vowed to block it, and as well as the United States and NATO.
Serbian lawmakers have insisted that such a change would require amending the country's constitution.
But Thaci claims as supreme commander of the Kosovo Security Forces he has legal authority to make the change. And the parliament earlier this week moved to bypass the Serbian opposition by preparing amendments to an existing law that would allow the existing security forces to buy heavy weapons and recruit more soldiers, in effect transforming it into an army.
The row over the army has left Kosovo at odds with its Western backers over a major issue for the first time, and it remains unclear what prompted Thaci to shift policy.
When he first offered the plan earlier this week, it drew immediate criticism from NATO, which still has some 4,500 troops in the country in a peacekeeping mission begun nearly two decades after the regional war.
NATO said it would prefer that Kosovo change its constitution to create a regular army, a move that would require the support of the 120-seat parliament's 11 Serb deputies. Those Serb lawmakers, however, backed by Belgrade, have said they will never accept his plan to double the nation's forces to 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists.
NATO and the United States said they would re-evaluate the assistance they have long provided to the existing security forces if Thaci's plan is approved.
"The U.S. believes Kosovo's security depends on the quality of its partnerships. We don't want to see Kosovo out of step with key partners," The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, tweeted late on March 10.
While NATO has said it has no plans to leave Kosovo, the dispute with longtime allies has alarmed some.
"The United States is very important for Kosovo and its people," Arben Gashi, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's Democratic League of Kosovo party said on March 10. "As for Hashim Thaci, he can easily be replaced."
With reporting by AP, Reuters, RTK, and Top-channel.tv