(RFE/RL) -- Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia less than a year ago, has launched its own security force -- a key step toward building its own army.
The new security force is made up of 2,500 civilians and paramilitaries, along with about 800 reservists.
The commander of the Kosovo Security Force (FSK) is General Sylejman Selimi. He says the creation of the force represents the beginning of a new phase in Kosovo.
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci stresses that the FSK is being trained by NATO and that it includes members of all ethnic groups in Kosovo -- mainly ethnic Albanians and Serbs.
"I will be a multiethnic force in the service of the country and all of its citizens," Thaci said. "It will have the full support of the international community and it will work in accordance with Kosovo's constitution and NATO standards."
The FSK replaces the Kosovo Protection Corps. That fledgling security force also was a multiethnic force. But it comprised mostly former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the separatist guerrilla group that had fought against Serbia for independence during the 1990s.Serbian Concerns
Similarities between the FSK and the Kosovo Protection Corps have caused concern among ethnic Serbs in Kosovo and with the government in Belgrade.
Kosovar PM Hashim Thaci said the force will be multiethnic.
But Thaci, himself the former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, says Serbs have nothing to fear. "I fully believe -- because we have been successful with the Kosovo police force -- which is a multiethnic force -- that it will be the same with Kosovo Security Force," he said.
But that has not eased concerns in Belgrade, where the government still does not does not recognize Kosovo's February 2008 declaration of independence and continues to consider Kosovo a southern province of its national territory.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic branded the FSK "an illegal paramilitary group," saying that its creation was "totally unacceptable." Jeremic also called the force "a direct threat to national security, peace, and stability in the entire region."
Serbian President Boris Tadic also rejected the new security force, saying that "Serbia absolutely doesn't except something like that. And Serbia is not going to accept these forces."Ahtisaari Plan
The FSK was created under a plan drawn up by the UN's special mediator for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari. That plan called for Kosovo's independence under international supervision.
The Ahtisaari plan was never given the green light by the UN Security Council, but certain elements are still being implemented.
Under the Ahtisaari plan, the FSK initially will only have civil-protection functions. It also could possibly help in emergency situations. But it is not meant to be a full-fledged army or police force.
International civilian and military officials have to decide at a later date when the force can assume wider functions.
Meanwhile, a European Union law-and-order project continues to work with the NATO-led KFOR security force in ethnic-Serbian areas like Gracanica and Kosovska-Mitrovica.
Known as EULEX, the project is the largest civilian mission ever launched under the European Security and Defense Policy. It aims to assist and support Kosovar authorities as they develop the rule of law -- particularly in the areas of police work, the courts, and customs.
RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report from Belgrade and Pristina