By Talha Ozturk
Bucking NATO and Serb opposition, Kosovo's parliament on Friday overwhelmingly passed a law making a 5,000-strong standing Kosovar army a reality.
In the capital Pristina, 107 of 120 lawmakers voted for three bills to officially transform the nation’s current Kosovo Security Force (FSK) into an army.
The vote was attended by President Hashim Thaci, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, and FSK Commander Lt. Gen.
Thaci signing the bill, as promised, will make the transition official.
‘Kosovo army is country’s dignity’
After the bill’s passage, Thaci said the new Kosovo army exemplifies the country's dignity, security, and prosperity.
"The establishment of the Kosovo army and Defense Ministry is the best gift for the year-end holidays," he said.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Pristina reiterated its support for the FSK’s “gradual transformation … to a force with a territorial defense mandate, as is Kosovo’s sovereign right. The vote in the Assembly today is the first step in developing this capability.”
But NATO's leadership decried the move.
"The transition of the Kosovo Security Force is in principle a matter for Kosovo to decide, [but] we have made clear that this move is ill-timed," Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said in a statement.
Ana Brnabic, the prime minister of neighboring Serbia, claimed the new army could destabilize the region.
"Today is a difficult day for me, this is not a day that contributes to stability in the region. Serbia will strive to continue its path of peace and stability," Brnabic told reporters.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade insists the country remains part of Serbia. Since then, tensions have persisted between Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority and a small Serb minority in the north.
Kosovo’s independence is recognized by over 100 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Germany