7 February 2008 – Finnish crisis management troops are prepared to protect Kosovo’s Serbian minority once independence is declared. The Finns will take over responsibility for the main KFOR battlegroup next summer.

A declaration of independence is expected in Kosovo within a matter of days. The international community is preparing to protect the ethnic Serbs, over 100,000 of them, who still live in the break-away province.

Visiting Kosovo, Finnish Foreign Minister and current OSCE Chair Ilkka Kanerva said that everything possible will be done to protect the Serbian minority.

“It is of extreme importance at such an historic juncture that human rights and the principles of the rule of law be respected, among other reasons, so that no population movements are seen within the country or out of it. This is a basic issue, one reason that I have stressed strict adherence to human rights and the rule of law to all the parties,” notes Kanerva.

Finnish operational responsibility

Under a decision made earlier, the number of Finnish soldiers in crisis management roles in Kosovo is being increased from 400 to 450.

The commander of the Finnish contingent, Pekka Saariaho, says Serbs living in Kosovo have expressed fears about their future to his troops.

“At the moment, there are no indications of any serious threat, but anything is possible and we are prepared to deal with this,” Saariaho told YLE.

He added that the Finns have made an effort to reassure local Serbs that the security of everyone in Kosovo will be looked after.

However, the situation could be made more complex by a threat by Serbia and Russia to block OSCE activities in Kosovo. Foreign Minister Kanerva, who had meetings with Serbia’s leadership on Tuesday, is still optimistic.

“In fact, I am more optimistic than before I came here. And that, of course, is a good sign,” says Kanerva.

Source: YLE