NATO vows to keep Kosovo force at full strength

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Noordwijk, (Netherlands) Oct 24: NATO will keep its 16,000-strong force in the breakaway Serb province Kosovo at full strength for ''all eventualities'', Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said today.

''There is no single argument to bring down the force level,'' de Hoop Scheffer told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in the Dutch coastal resort of Noordwijk.

''We want to keep it that KFOR (the NATO-led force) is ready for all eventualities, that KFOR is able to protect majority and minority alike,'' he added.

Tensions are rising in UN-administered Kosovo, where leaders of the majority ethnic Albanians there are demanding independence against the will of Belgrade.

Envoys from the United States, Russia and the European Union, have until December 10 to bridge the gap between the Serb offer of broad autonomy inside Serbia and the ethnic Albanian majority's demand for full independence.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates alarmed some allies earlier this week by suggesting he would consider shifting US troops from Kosovo to Afghanistan next year if NATO allies did not come up with reinforcements in Afghanistan.

Gates first considered laying the threat before NATO defence ministers at the Noordwijk meeting, senior US officials said. But upon the advice of senior military officers, the Pentagon chief extended the US commitment to Kosovo to summer 2008.


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