The House will recall that on 17 February 2008 the Government of Kosovo declared independence, with a commitment to implementing the obligations contained in UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s comprehensive proposal for a status settlement in Kosovo. Since independence, there have been positive developments by the Kosovo Government in meeting these obligations, including the approval of a new constitution, which will come into force in June 2008. The EU and NATO have also made progress in preparing to assume their responsibilities under the Ahtisaari proposals, including the European security and defence policy, policing and rule of law mission in Kosovo and the implementation of NATO’s new tasks in relation to Kosovo’s own security forces.
During this period, the security situation has remained tense and there have been some sporadic incidents of violence. The NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR), in co-operation with the UN international police authorities, are working hard to address this and to maintain a safe and secure environment.
Against this background, the UK has received a request from NATO for the deployment of a UK battalion to Kosovo by the end of May as part of our existing commitment to the NATO/EU shared pan-Balkans operational reserve force (ORF). This is a long standing commitment that the UK meets in rotation with Italy and Germany. Since 1 January this year, it has been the UK’s turn to provide the highest readiness battalion for a period of six months. We are, therefore, well prepared to meet NATO’s request and I have agreed to deploy our ORF battalion until 30 June 2008. The task will be undertaken by 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, who have been trained specifically for this requirement.
This deployment will demonstrate our commitment to the security of the region and will provide NATO with extra flexibility in maintaining peace and stability for all communities within Kosovo. The House will also wish to be aware that our commitment to the NATO/EU pan-Balkans ORF continues until the end of this year at a lower readiness.
I would like to stress that the deployment of the UK ORF battalion confirms yet again the professionalism of our armed forces and their ability to provide essential military support at short notice. I shall make a further statement on this deployment in due course, if required.