NATO hails Serbia-Kosovo accord, ready to help

NATO, whose troops help maintain security in Kosovo, hailed an EU-brokered normalisation accord Friday between Belgrade and Pristina and said it stood ready to help implement it.

"I am very happy for NATO to contribute to the conclusion of an historic agreement," the head of the military alliance Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

"NATO will continue to ensure a safe and secure environment throughout Kosovo," he said.

"As we have done in the past, NATO and in particular KFOR will stand ready to support the implementation of this latest agreement to the best of our ability within our current mandate."

NATO intervened in the breakaway province of Kosovo in 1999 to force the withdrawal of Serb forces. Once that was achieved, the alliance set up KFOR, now reduced to some 5,000 troops, to ensure security.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, winning international recognition from some 100 countries, including the United States and all bar five EU member states.

Rasmussen congratulated EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton for the outcome after she chaired a series of meetings between the two sides, who both want closer ties with Brussels.

"I am confident that all people in the region and the whole international community will recognise what has been achieved here in Brussels," he said, hailing the accord as "a big step forward for regional peace and security."

"These negotiations have been concluded," Ashton said, after she called Serb Premier Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci back to Brussels for another session after talks Wednesday ended without a deal.

"What we are seeing is a step away from the past and, for both of them, a step closer to Europe," Ashton said.

The two delegations headed later Friday to NATO for further talks with Rasmussen.