PRISTINA Leaders of Kosovo's main parties agreed on Tuesday to dissolve parliament this week and hold an early election on June 8 after Serb minority lawmakers nixed a vote on creating a national army by failing to show up.
Kosovo's Western backers, who recognised it as independent in 2008, had been reluctant to see the immediate creation of an army for fear of the message it might send to the more than 100,000 ethnic Serbs who live in the country and to Serbia itself.
Parliament was supposed to hold the vote on Monday, but Kosovo's constitution states that two thirds of lawmakers had to vote, as well as two thirds of minority deputies.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that the leaders of the biggest political parties had agreed in principle to hold the June 8 vote instead of an election planned for November, and that parliament would be dissolved on Wednesday.Isa Mustafa, the leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), said after meeting the president: “Parliament is not functioning any more... The best way out is to hold elections in the first part of June, after dissolving the parliament."
Thaci had said publicly before the meeting with President Atifete Jahjaga that a parliament that "cannot vote on the army of its country makes a nonsense of any further proceedings".
His proposal was for the landlocked country of 1.8 million, which borders Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, to have an army of 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists.
Kosovo already has the nucleus of a future army in the lightly armed, 2,500-strong Kosovo Security Force, tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordnance disposal.
Any new army would have to work alongside a NATO peace force of 5,000 soldiers still deployed in Kosovo. NATO's attempts to further cut back its presence have been thwarted by continuing ethnic tensions and violence in the north.
Serbia has agreed to cede its de facto control in that area in return for guaranteed rights for ethnic Serbs living there and the start of EU membership talks for Belgrade.
Kosovo has been unable to join the United Nations due to opposition from Russia - a Serbian ally and U.N. veto-holder.
Although Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as sovereign, relations between the two have improved over the past year, after the two sides reached a landmark EU-brokered accord.
(Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Louise Ireland)
Our top photos from the last 24 hours.