Ulutas: We support the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue

General Ulutaš
Source: KFOR

"We continue to support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with EU mediation as the only path to lasting peace and stability, for the benefit of all communities living in Kosovo. The situation on the ground is calm but remains fragile. Our primary goal remains to prevent escalation; however, in case of increased tensions, we are ready and equipped to take all necessary actions to continue fulfilling our UN mandate," said KFOR commander General Özkan Ulutaş at a press conference.

Ulutaş highlighted that it is a privilege for him to lead NATO's longest and largest mission.

"KFOR consists of more than 4,600 soldiers from 28 countries, including NATO allies and partner countries. As a Turkish general, I am especially proud because this reflects Turkey's longstanding commitment to the KFOR mission and regional stability. My goal is to ensure that all troops under my responsibility fulfill KFOR's UN-mandated mission to provide a safe and secure environment for all people living in Kosovo and to ensure freedom of movement, at all times and impartially. All communities want to live their daily lives in a climate of lasting peace and security. That is what drives our daily activities," Ulutaş emphasized.

Regarding the role and contribution of KFOR to security in Kosovo and stability throughout the region, Ulutaş stressed that the mission is based on the UN mandate.

"KFOR's mission is based on the UN mandate, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 from 1999: to ensure a safe and secure environment for all people living in Kosovo and to ensure freedom of movement, at all times and impartially. KFOR acts as the third line of security response, in close cooperation with the Kosovo Police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which are the first and second lines of security response. KFOR fulfills its mandate through regular patrols and continuous engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders. KFOR's presence remains essential for lasting security across Kosovo, for the benefit of all communities, and it also represents a concrete and tangible demonstration of NATO's longstanding and firm commitment to stability across the Western Balkans," he stated.

Ulutaş emphasized that following the unacceptable violent events in May and September 2023, NATO deployed around 1,000 additional soldiers to Kosovo.

"These steps ensured that KFOR has the necessary forces, capabilities, and flexibility to fulfill its UN mandate. The deployment of additional troops showed that we are able to quickly and effectively adapt to any significant developments in the security situation. It also contributed to making our presence on the ground even more visible and flexible, as evidenced by the fact that we have tripled our patrols, especially along the administrative boundary line. This reinforcement—the largest in our mission in the past decade—was a prudent measure aimed at ensuring that KFOR continues to effectively carry out its UN mandate, at all times and impartially. We are committed to maintaining an agile force posture and continue to verify the readiness of our troops through regular exercises, including recent exercises with the Kosovo Police and EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), which are the first and second lines of security response, and with whom we maintain close coordination. Our primary goal remains to prevent escalation; however, in case of increased tensions, we are ready and equipped to take all necessary actions to continue fulfilling our UN mandate," Ulutaş stated.

When asked by a Kosovo Online journalist how he sees the security situation after several months at the helm of KFOR, General Ulutaş stated that the situation on the ground is calm.

"During my command of KFOR, and as a result of regular meetings I have had with all my main partners, I can say that the common desire in all communities is lasting peace and security, and that such an aspiration guides the scope of our daily activities. Generally, the situation on the ground is calm, but it remains fragile. Therefore, we carefully monitor all relevant security developments, including in northern Kosovo, through visible and flexible presence, with regular patrols and engagement with local communities. We will continue to fulfill our UN mandate to ensure a safe and secure environment for all communities living in Kosovo, as well as freedom of movement, at all times and impartially, in close cooperation with the Kosovo Police, the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), and also through our contacts with the Serbian Armed Forces."

General Ulutaş emphasized that KFOR operates in a complex environment with various local and international entities.

"Accordingly, constant coordination and sustainable communication with all stakeholders are crucial for ensuring lasting security for all people living in Kosovo, as well as regional stability. One of my main priorities is maintaining regular communication based on trust with local, regional, and international actors, entities, institutions, and media representatives. This includes the Kosovo Police and EULEX, who serve as the primary and secondary lines of security response. We work closely with them to ensure the effectiveness of our joint actions. We also cooperate with the Serbian Armed Forces and several international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation, to achieve our common goals. We continue to support the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina with EU mediation as the only path to lasting peace and stability for the benefit of all communities living in Kosovo," said the KFOR commander.

When asked about the role of Turkish personnel in KFOR, he emphasized that it has been significant.

"Turkish personnel have played a significant role in the KFOR mission since its inception in 1999. Here are some key aspects of their role: Firstly, security and stability. Turkish troops participate in patrols, secure key locations, and respond to potential security threats, especially through reserve forces. Secondly, multinational cooperation. Their participation reflects their impeccable and efficient cooperation with troops from other NATO allies and partner countries. Thirdly, community support. Turkish personnel have also been engaged in civil-military projects, helping local communities through infrastructure development, health support, and educational initiatives. Lastly, regional expertise. Turkey's cultural and historical ties with the region have made its personnel particularly valuable when it comes to understanding and navigating local complexities in Kosovo. Overall, the Turkish military presence is crucial in ensuring that KFOR fulfills its goals, demonstrating a longstanding commitment to regional stability and international cooperation," Ulutaş concluded.