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. Italian general replaces French colleague at KFOR helm in Kosovo
PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) Sep 01, 2005
French general Yves de Kermabon officially handed over command of the NATO-led multinational force in Kosovo (KFOR) to his Italian colleague Giuseppe Valotto on Thursday.

For the first time since the United Nations assumed administration of the southern Serbian province in June 1999, the ceremony was attended by Serbia-Montenegro's Chief of Staff, General Dragan Paskas.

The handover ceremony at KFOR headquareters in the Kosovo capital Pristina was chaired by Admiral Harry Ulrich, commander of the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples and attended by French and Italian Defence Ministers Michele Alliot-Marie and Antonio Martino.

Alliot-Marie thanked de Kermabon for his efforts aimed at re-establishing confidence in the province.

"It is clear that there was a need to re-establish confidence after the March 2004 (anti-Serb) violence which shook Kosovo," she said.

General de Kermabon took over KFOR command after March 2004 riots in which 19 people -- 11 Albanians and 8 Serbs -- were killed, while some 4,000 Serbs fled the province despite the NATO presence.

"Stability in Kosovo and in the region is an important goal for the Italian government... This goal also demands international attention and an international military presence in Kosovo," said Martino.

The UN and NATO have controlled Kosovo since June 1999 following NATO's air war against Yugoslavia which forced then president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his troops from the Albanian-dominated province.

Tensions have remained high with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders eager for talks leading to independence, while Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs want the territory to remain part of Serbia and Montenegro.

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