Turkey on Tuesday (Oct 10) took command of a NATO-led force in Kosovo for the first time in a backdrop of a volatile situation in the country’s north and tense relations with former wartime rival Serbia.
In late September, about 30 gunmen ambushed a police patrol near the northern border with Serbia. This led to the death of a Kosovan police officer.
It was one of the most serious incidents in ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade still refuses to recognise the move.
After the ambush, the gunmen retreated and barricaded themselves in an Orthodox monastery. They were involved in a shootout that lasted for hours.
The US and the European Union (EU) expressed deep concern over the incident and urged restraint.
A handover ceremony took place in Pristina on Tuesday. Turkish Major General Ozkan Ulutas said that he was mindful of the responsibility at the helm of KFOR during a “sensitive period that Kosovo is going through”, a KFOR statement said.
Major General Ulutas will be commanding the 4500-string KFOR. The troops in the force are provided by 27 NATO and partner countries.
Kosovo has accused Serbia of backing the full operation near its northern border and claimed that it was aimed at annexation of Kosovo’s north.
The suspected commando leader who killed the officer, Milan Radoicic, admitted to masterminding the deadly attack.
Radoicic is also a former vice president of the main political grouping of Kosovo Serbs. He was briefly detained in Serbia earlier this month and ordered freed on a conditional release.
KFOR was deployed in Kosovo after the 1998-1999 war between independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian armed forces.
The war claimed about 13,000 lives. It ended with the NATO bombing of Serbia. This forced Belgrade to withdraw its military and police from Kosovo.