NATO's top military body toured Kosovo's institutions Wednesday and inspected developments in the province after the United Nations approved talks to resolve the province's status. NATO's Military Committee, made up of the permanent representatives of the 26 member nations, arrived in Kosovo Tuesday at a time when the alliance is considering its own future role in the province.
"NATO's presence is still vital for emerging local and regional institutions to take root," said Gen. Raymond Henault, the chairman of the committee.
On Wednesday, the delegation visited the training center of the Kosovo Protection Corps, a 3,000-strong civil emergency organization consisting mostly of former ethnic Albanian rebel fighters that battled Serb forces during the 1998-1999 war.
"We're here to see the progress and challenges that face you, especially as the U.N. will start the status talks," Henault said.
Henault said the aim of the visit was to also learn "what sort of security and stability mechanisms are in place" in Kosovo.
NATO moved into Kosovo as part of the United Nations deal following the alliance's war against Serbia in 1999, which halted Serb forces' crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians and put the province under international administration.
There are 17,500 NATO-led peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo.
The province, legally part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia, has been run by a U.N. mission since then.
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council decided to launch talks on Kosovo's future, clearing the way for tough negotiations on the status of the ethnically divided province.
Though eagerly awaited, the prospect of the talks has raised fears that extremists could use violence to protest the outcome. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders are seeking independence, while its Serb minority and Belgrade officials want it to remain within Serbia-Montenegro, the AP reports.
Henault warned those planning violence that NATO is "well-placed, well-resourced, well-led and well-able to take the measurers required to deter any trouble."
On photo: Raymond Henault, the chairman of the committee.