Spain to withdraw troops from Kosovo


The Spanish government confirmed today it would withdraw most of its 600 troops from Kosovo by the end of the summer, backtracking on an earlier statement suggesting that the forces may remain longer.

A spokesman for the prime minister's office said the timetable for withdrawing the troops was flexible and the process might not be complete for 18 months.

After a midday statement by the defence ministry, the spokesman said his earlier suggestion they might stay another 18 months was incorrect.

"The Defence Ministry statement counts as the final word on this matter," he said.

In its statement, the defence ministry reiterated that most of the troops would leave Kosovo according to the originaltimetable set by defence minister Carme Chacon, who said on Thursday the troops would withdraw by the  end of the summer.

"The Spanish contingent will return in a staggered and flexible manner, so that most of the troops will have returned within the period announced by the minister," it added.

Nato secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has criticised Spain for announcing the withdrawal before agreement within the KFOR peacekeeping alliance, and the United States said it was "deeply disappointed" by the Spanish decision.

"Defence minister Carme Chacon will meet Nato's secretary general next week to explain the reasons for the withdrawal," the spokesman for the prime minister's office added.

Twenty-two of the 27 European Union states have recognised Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia last year.

Spain is one of the five that have refused to recognise Kosovo as independent, along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia. The Spanish government fears that recognition could set a precedent for sensitive regions of Spain.