NATO warns Kosovo government over purchase of lethal drones from Turkey

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NATO forces in Kosovo warned the government on Monday over the recent purchase of lethal drones from Turkey, saying the peacekeeping operation remained in charge of the territory’s airspace.

The statement from the international peacekeeping force KFOR came a day after Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced the purchase and delivery of Bayraktar TB-2 drones from Turkey.

“Regarding the use of all the categories of drones and the related limitations, including the Bayraktar TB-2… Kosovo Force (KFOR) Commander has the primary authority for airspace over Kosovo,” read a KFOR statement.

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Tensions remain high across Kosovo following months of unrest in Serb-majority areas in the north, including a riot that saw more than 30 NATO peacekeepers injured during a clash with ethnic Serb protestors in May.

Kurti is set to meet this week with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels, where the two sides are under increasing pressure to dial down tensions.

On Sunday, Kurti posted photos on social media showing him standing next to the new drones.

“We have added to the arsenal of our army the TB-2 Bayraktar drones which we purchased from Turkey!” said Kurti in the post.

“Kosovo is now safer and always proud!”

The government aims to transform its Kosovo Security Force (KSF) into a 5,000 strong regular army with 3,000 reservists.

The KSF oversees civil operations such as firefighting, explosive ordnance disposal and search and rescue missions.

KFOR, however, remains the country’s top security institution with 4,500 troops provided by 27 allied and partner countries.

The peacekeeping force has been stationed in Kosovo since the end of the 1998-1999 war between independence-seeking, ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian forces.

Kosovo remains overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians, but in the northern stretches of the territory near the border with Serbia, ethnic Serbs remain the majority in several municipalities.

The north has remained riven by divisions and periods of unrest since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Belgrade -- along with its key allies China and Russia -- has refused to recognise Kosovo’s independence.

The Bayraktar TB-2 drone rose to prominence last year for its role in the earliest stages of Ukraine’s defence against the Russian invasion and has been purchased by a dozen militaries across the globe.

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