Serbia warns Kosovo army will substantially worsen tensions

Serbia warns Kosovo army will substantially worsen tensions
A soldier of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR guards convoy of the road near the village of Leposavic, northern Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. In Friday’s vote, Kosovo's 120-seat parliament is expected to approve three draft laws to turn an existing paramilitary force into a lightly armed army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Source: Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Tensions soared in the Balkans a day before Kosovo's parliament is set to approve the formation of an army, with Serbia warning Thursday that the move would threaten peace in the war-scarred region.

Kosovo's parliament is expected to pass legislation Friday that would turn an existing 4,000-strong security force into an expanded, lightly armed army. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 from Serbia, which does not recognize the assertion of statehood.

After talks with the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described Kosovo's decision as a "new provocative and one-sided measure" that raises Serbia's concerns for the future of Serbs in Kosovo.

Vucic said Serbia will "do its best to preserve peace and stability," but warned the "situation will be considerably worsened" if Kosovo goes ahead with the decision on Friday.

"We are not going to beat the war drums, but we will not allow anyone to purge and humiliate the Kosovo Serbs," Vucic said.

Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR take a break by the side of the road near the village of Leposavic, northern Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. In Friday’s vote, Kosovo's 120-seat parliament is expected to approve three draft laws to turn an existing paramilitary force into a lightly armed army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Soldiers of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR take a break by the side of the road near the village of Leposavic, northern Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. In Friday’s vote, Kosovo's 120-seat parliament is expected to approve three draft laws to turn an existing paramilitary force into a lightly armed army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Source: Darko Vojinovic)

Serbia alleges the army's main purpose would be to ethnically cleanse Kosovo's Serbian-dominated north, a claim strongly denied by Pristina.

Members of Kosovo's Security Forces salute during the flag raising ceremony in this southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Members of Kosovo's Security Forces salute during the flag raising ceremony in this southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) (Source: Visar Kryeziu)

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, wearing a military jacket, visited army barracks near the capital of Pristina to assure "all the communities in Kosovo, especially the Serb one" that the future army "will continue to serve them without any ethnic distinction."

Commander of Kosovo Security Force Lt. Gen. Rrahman Rama shows a picture of KSF member Ismail Hoxha receiving a military award from Prince Charles during an interview with The Associated Press in capital Pristina, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform Kosovo Security Force into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Commander of Kosovo Security Force Lt. Gen. Rrahman Rama shows a picture of KSF member Ismail Hoxha receiving a military award from Prince Charles during an interview with The Associated Press in capital Pristina, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform Kosovo Security Force into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) (Source: Visar Kryeziu)

Serbia lost control of Kosovo after a 1998-99 war and NATO airstrikes that ended Belgrade's bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanians. The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo as an independent country, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China do not.

Member of Kosovo's Security Forces takes part in a exercise in southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Member of Kosovo's Security Forces takes part in a exercise in southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) (Source: Visar Kryeziu)

Adding to tensions among Serbs ahead of the Friday vote, Kosovo's Security Forces held exercises in the south and NATO-led peacekeepers deployed a convoy of combat vehicles in the north of Kosovo.

Members of Kosovo's Security Forces man a checkpoint during an exercise in southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Members of Kosovo's Security Forces man a checkpoint during an exercise in southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) (Source: Visar Kryeziu)

The deployment of peacekeepers was seen as a provocation by Kosovo Serbs, but the so-called KFOR mission said it was a routine exercise.

Members of Kosovo's Security Forces are lined up during the flag raising ceremony in this southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
Members of Kosovo's Security Forces are lined up during the flag raising ceremony in this southeastern town of Gjilan, Kosovo on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, a day before the parliament votes to transform them into a regular army. Kosovo lawmakers are set to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army, a move that significantly heightened tension with neighboring Serbia which even left open a possibility of an armed intervention in its former province. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu) (Source: Visar Kryeziu)

"It's just a regular training, exercise. KFOR troops training to keep readiness to be rapidly deployed all over Kosovo as it is foreseen by our mandate," said the mission's spokesman, Vincenzo Grasso.

A convoy of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR vehicles travels on the road near the village Rudare, north of Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo's parliament on Friday is expected to approve legislation to turn existing 4,000-strong security forces into an army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
A convoy of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR vehicles travels on the road near the village Rudare, north of Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo's parliament on Friday is expected to approve legislation to turn existing 4,000-strong security forces into an army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Source: Darko Vojinovic)

He also sought to downplay the importance of lawmakers approving the creation of an army.

A convoy of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR vehicles travels on the road near the village Rudare, north of Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo's parliament on Friday is expected to approve legislation to turn existing 4,000-strong security forces into an army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
A convoy of NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR vehicles travels on the road near the village Rudare, north of Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Kosovo's parliament on Friday is expected to approve legislation to turn existing 4,000-strong security forces into an army. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) (Source: Darko Vojinovic)

"Whatever will be decided tomorrow will not change the situation in one day," he said.

____

Llazar Semini from Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec, from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed.