- Title: SERBIA: Slovenian troops popular peacekeepers in Kosovo
- Date: 29th March 2007
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Slovenian) SLOVENIAN SOLDIER IN KOSOVO, MARKO CVEK, SAYING: "We conduct daily patrols and vehicle checkpoints to demonstrate KFOR's presence here in Kosovo. This is what we do on a daily basis."
- Embargoed: 13th April 2007 13:00
- Location: Serbia
- Country: Serbia
- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVA9HFEXVXMDS1WIU0QJDFQSLULY
- Story Text: It is a sight that has not been witnessed in many years - Slovenian soldiers manning a checkpoint in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo.
Just 16 years ago, Slovenians and Kosovo Albanians lived in one country, but when Yugoslavia began collapsing in the early 1990s, Slovenia was the first to venture on alone as an independent state.
A little over a decade later, Kosovo is pushing for independence, and the Slovenians are back as part of a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) force trying to make sure a possible divorce from Serbia goes peacefully.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, after NATO bombing to halt Serbian atrocities.
The Slovenian battalion, of 600 men, part of the 16,500 strong NATO peace force in Kosovo, represents the country's largest ever mission abroad.
Its deployment, one month ago, comes at a key moment for Kosovo, as Western powers try to win the support of the United Nations Security Council for a U.N. plan to give the province a form of internationally supervised independence.
Diplomats are warning of violence if a decision does not come soon.
"We conduct daily patrols and vehicle checkpoints to demonstrate KFOR's presence here in Kosovo. This is what we do on a daily basis," said Marko Cvek from the Slovenian town of Kranj.
"I don't notice any differences between Albanians and Serbs, we are accepted by both sides," Cvek added.
Another soldier, Damjan Kus, said people like the fact that they are Slovenians.
"The situation in Kosovo is that people are friendly towards us, they are talkative when they see that we are from Slovenia, especially old people. We have some difficulties in communicating with young people who don't speak the language and we don't speak Albanian," Kus from Braslovce said.
90 percent of Kosovo's two million people are ethnic Albanians and many regard Slovenians as more kind hearted in their opposition to the Serbian regime of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic and his attempts to dominate the territory in the 1990s.
Compared to other countries in the region Slovenia is one of the biggest foreign investors in Kosovo, and its products sell well.
But NATO's peace force in Kosovo, KFOR, is on the alert. Alike their colleagues from 25 other nations, the Slovenians are trained in dealing with riots if the Albanian demand for independence is delayed or denied by the Russian opposition.
The Slovenian task force, Sokol is based in the Western town of Pec where they share their peacekeeping responsibilities and daily life with Italians, Romanians and Hungarians. The force is scheduled to spend a further five months in Kosovo.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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