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NATO set to slash Kosovo troop numbers - paper


MOSCOW, March 3 (RIA Novosti) - NATO is set to drastically cut back troop numbers in Kosovo, a Belgrade newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing a source in the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

Some 16,000 NATO troops are presently located in Kosovo, which on February 17 celebrated the first anniversary of its unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. The NATO military contingent in Kosovo is the alliance's third largest deployment after Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The defense ministers of the NATO member countries will meet in Brussels in June and will most likely make a decision on the symbolic presence of the [NATO-led] Kosovo Force," the Politika newspaper quoted the NATO source as saying. "EULEX [European Union police], local police, and the Kosovo Protection Corps will be located there and that is sufficient to uphold peace and stability."

NATO spokesman James Appathurai earlier said that the alliance was ready to back the launch of a new Kosovo domestic security force and supervise the standing-down of the Kosovo Protection Corps. The principal tasks of the new force - which NATO says will be lightly armed and have no heavy weapons - will be crisis response, bomb disposal and civil protection.

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 authorizes the deployment of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led Kosovo Force.

Kosovo has been recognized by 54 of the 192 UN member states, including the United States and most major European countries. Russia and China have refused to acknowledge its sovereignty.

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