In a move that has been seen by some as a provocation, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci has announced plans to build a national army. Despite objections from the European Union, NATO and Serbia, he says the expansion of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) is a “normal step of a sovereign and independent state.”

In an interview with Voice of America, Thaci went on to say, “This will be an army not only of the Albanians, but a multi-ethnic army in the service of all.” Thaci submitted a draft law to parliament for approval in order to begin forming a more heavily weaponised army, but Serb members of parliament have promised to boycott voting on the legislation.

This is the latest incident to escalate long-simmering tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. In December 2016, Serbs built a two-meter high concrete wall in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, separating Serb and Albanian communities. The wall was seen as stoking ethnic tensions by the government of Kosovo, and was demolished last month in an agreement brokered by the EU. In another provocation in January this year, a train was sent on its first voyage from the Serbian capital of Belgrade to Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, with the phrase “Kosovo is Serbian” written in 21 different languages. The train was stopped by Kosovo guards and blocked from crossing the border.

Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority of 92 percent, proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008, in the aftermath of a brutal war that ended in 1999 when a US-led NATO air campaign was launched against the Serbian army. Kosovo is recognised by 23 EU countries and 114 UN member states, however, Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty, leaving the future of the semi-autonomous region of approximately 1.8 million people in limbo.

As one of the poorest areas in Europe, and also one of the youngest with 42 percent of its population under the age of 25, Kosovo faces daunting challenges as it tries to build its future.

The Stream discusses the relationship between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, and the significance of the president’s decision to expand the army.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Besa Shahini @besa_shahini
Independent policy analyst

Jovana Radosavljevic @libertas88
Executive Director, New Social Initiative

Petrit Selimi @Petrit
Former Foreign Minister of Kosovo

Aidan Hehir @FarCanals
Director of the Security and International Relations Programme, University of Westminster

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