RISTINA (AFP) - - Kosovo launched a new security force Wednesday in a new sign of independence, prompting Serbia to brand it "an illegal paramilitary group" whose creation was "totally unacceptable".
The search for hundreds of recruits of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) is being supported by NATO peacekeepers in the breakaway Serbian province.
Lieutenant Henrik Kristensson of NATO said the force aims to have 1,500 members by September with an eventual full operational size of 2,500 full time members and 800 reserves in two-to-five years.
He said the force would be recruited from majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs and would come under the control of the Kosovo parliament.
Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in February last year. It has been recognised by more than 50 countries including the United States and much of Europe, but Belgrade, backed by Moscow, refuses to accept the secession.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic branded the KSF "an illegal paramilitary group" whose creation was "totally unacceptable".
Speaking on B92 television during a visit to Ljubljana, Jeremic said the "force is a direct threat to national security, peace and stability in the entire region".
He said Serbian President Boris Tadic would protest to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "Serbia will use all diplomatic means to have this decision undone," he added.
The KSF will replace the Kosovar Protection Service (KPS) which had been made up mainly of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the separatist guerrillas who fought Serbia during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war.
Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, told a press conference that "The only solution for a lasting peace in the region is full demilitarisation of Kosovo."
"We will use all diplomatic means to oppose further formation of these forces," Bogdanovic said, without elaborating.
He said that both Serbia and Kosovo Serbs "have bitter experiences with both KLA and KPS, there is no difference between them and Kosovo Security Forces."
But he denied the Serb minority in Kosovo -- estimated at about 100,000 after the end of 1998-1999 war -- should have its own security force.
"Formation of Serb security forces will just add up to rising of tensions in Kosovo," Bogdanovic said.
KSF commander General Sylejman Selimi told the first recruits at a midnight rally to launch the force that its deployment would be made "in full cooperation with our international friends".
"We're at the beginning of a new phase; this force has become a reality," the former KLA commander told the press.
The force is part of a plan for Kosovo drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari which called for independence under international supervision. The plan has never been approved by the UN Security Council because of Russian opposition.
Under the Ahtisaari plan the KSF will have civil protection functions and possibly help in emergency situations but it is not intended to be a fully-fledged police force straight away.
Kristensson said the KSF could "assist civil authorities in responding to natural and other disasters, conduct explosive ordinance disposal and assist civil authorities for civil protect operations."
International civilian and military officials would decide at a later date when the force can assume wider functions.
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