Kosovo lawmakers vote Friday (14 December) on whether to give the small Balkan country its own army, a US-backed symbolic show of independence that has inflamed tensions with former wartime foe Serbia.
The former Serbian province is currently guarded by NATO-led peacekeeping troops, who have been stationed there since Kosovo broke away from Belgrade in a bloody separatist war in 1998-99.
The new law lays out a plan to double the size of a small crisis-response outfit, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), and gradually transform it into a professional army of 5,000.
“Soldiers, congratulations on your new assignments!” Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi told KSF members on the eve of the vote, dressed in camouflage fatigues.
“KSF is ready for a new role and mission,” he added, with the law expected to pass without a hitch.
Many Kosovo Albanians are ready to celebrate the army as a new pillar of their independence, which was declared in 2008 but has never been recognised by Belgrade.
“Now we can say that we are a state, there is no a state without an army,” Skender Arifi, a 37-year-old hairdresser in Pristina, told AFP.
“It is a great joy for the citizens of Kosovo,” said Hamze Mehmeti, a 67-year-old pensioner.
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