Kosovo's parliament on Friday on a second reading approved three draft laws on the Kosovo Security Force, KSF, expanding its competences and creating a legal base for its transformation into a regular army.
Of 120 MPs, 106 supported the draft law on a Ministry of Defence and 105 supported the law on the Kosovo Security Force. The draft law on service in the KSF was backed by 107 votes.
“From this moment, we officially have the army of Kosovo,” the speaker of parliament, Kadri Veseli, stated after the voting.
The hard work of #Kosovo’s men and women is paid off: as of today, we officially have an Army to serve to all of our citizens. As we celebrate this great achievement, we look ahead to working even harder to join our allies in #NATO family.KSF contributes to a safer Balkans!🇽🇰🇺🇸🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/0ifY1pG3ga
— Enver Hoxhaj (@Enver_Hoxhaj) December 14, 2018
MPs from the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista boycotted the session.
During the plenary session when the voting took place, President Hashim Thaci and KSF seniors and members were also present in the assembly.
Veseli started the plenary session with a minute's silence honoring all the generations of the political prisoners, students movements, former members of Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, and all those who had contributed to Kosovo being able to vote on and form its own army.
Kosovo held its official ceremony tonight on the transition of the Kosovo Security Force, KSF, into a regular army. Photo: BIRN
By adopting laws on changing the KSF’s powers, parliament bypassed the need to adopt constitutional changes required to change the KSF into a regular army – which Serbia bitterly opposes.
A constitutional obligation for that would require a “double majority” – meaning the support of two-thirds of all 120 MPs and two-thirds of the 20 ethnic non-Albanian MPs.
Kosovo Serb MPs, who hold 10 of the 20 seats in parliament reserved for non-Albanian communities, have blocked all such initiatives in the past.
Representatives of the main Kosovo Serb party, Srpska Lista, told a press conference on Friday that Kosovo's army would have no mandate in mainly Serbian North Kosovo and they will challenge the vote at the Constitutional Court.
“They're shooting at peace with this decision," the head of Srpska Lista, Goran Rakic, told journalists in the divided town of North Mitrovica.
Kosovo's army was “illegal”, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a press conference on Friday night.
“With this move, they jeopardize peace and security,” Vucic stressed.
He also said Serbia has launched the request for a UN Security Council meeting on the topic, blaming some Western countries of helping Kosovo Albanians in establishing an army.
“It has become clear today that the US and UK, and Germany when it comes to the Kosovo Army, standing behind Kosovo Albanians,” Vucic told journalists. “Serbia is not surprised,” he added.
Several opposition parties in Serbia, including the Democratic Party, and the right-wing Dveri party, demanded an extraordinary session of the Serbian Parliament with only Kosovo on the agenda.
Milorad Dodik, chair of Bosnian tripartite presidency, said Friday's vote in Kosovo would have a negative impact on stability and peace in the region.
"There is no way this is good news either for the Republika Srpska or for Bosnia, " Dodik told SRNA news agency on Friday about the Serb-led entity in Bosnia.
Dodik also said he expected a UN Security Council reaction as soon as possible.
However, Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj, who initiated the transition process, said during an official ceremony on Friday night that he supports cooperation with regional armies, including Serbia's.
“We have achieved this peace with lots of pain...and help from our allies,” he said.
The US, meanwhile, has sounded supportive, while reminding Kosovo to "engage" with minority communities.
Now, more than ever, the government of #Kosovo must engage with minority communities and coordinate closely with NATO Allies and partners, as it begins the ten-year transition of its security forces. The U.S. will be there with you. Our statement here: https://t.co/jss4lIkaYh
— Ambassador Philip S. Kosnett (@USAmbKosovo) December 14, 2018
Currently, the KSF has about 2,200 staff and was formed in 2009, charged with carrying out non-military tasks that are not appropriate for the police, such as search and rescue operations, flood relief and provision of humanitarian assistance.
NATO had called on Kosovo not to proceed with this move, calling it "ill-timed" and urging it first to consult NATO and all the relevant stakeholders in the country, meaning the Kosovo Serbs. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg reiterated his opposition on Friday.
I regret that the decision to initiate a change of the Kosovo Security Force mandate was made despite the concerns expressed by #NATO. All sides must ensure that today’s decision will not further increase tensions in the region. Read my statement here: https://t.co/a75hfdc0hw
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) December 14, 2018
The European Union has also warned Kosovo to uphold its obligations under to the First Agreement concluded in Brussels in April 2013 and its security arrangements.
“Like NATO, the European Union continues to share the view that the mandate of the KSF should only be changed through an inclusive and gradual process in accordance with Kosovo Constitution,” a statement of the EU External Action Service read on Friday.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and head of UNMIK, Zahir Tanin, referred on Friday to the UN resolution 1244 that entrusted the international community via Kosovo Force, KFOR, with responsibility for security in Kosovo.
He said the UN “encourages all parties to refrain from actions that could exacerbate tensions and to address all issues through political dialogue,” a press release read.