Nato to send 2 000 troops to Kosovo in exercise

BRUSSELS, Feb 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) NATO said on Monday it would send more than 2,000 troops to Kosovo next month for a training exercise intended to show its resolve to keep the peace and reinforce its peacekeeping operation if required.

A spokesman for the KFOR peacekeepers said by telephone the three-week exercise had long been planned and was not a response to concerns that the peacekeeping force should be reinforced because of tensions in the Yugoslav province.

"It's just a coincidence," said Flight Lieutenant Neville Clayton, a KFOR spokesman. "An operation of this nature involving this many personnel has been in planning for many, many months."

NATO said in a statement that the exercise would last from March 19 to April 10 and would involve the Strategic Reserve Force (SRF), a rapid deployment force. It would comprise troops from Argentina, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, Poland and Romania.

"This exercise, nicknamed 'Dynamic Response 2000', will demonstrate NATO's resolve to maintain a secure environment for Kosovo and its inhabitants and to reinforce KFOR if required," the statement said.

The troops will be in the province on March 24, the anniversary of the start of NATO's bombardment of Yugoslavia last year, intended to persuade Belgrade to halt a crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

NATO ambassadors and the KFOR peacekeeping mission commander, General Klaus Reinhardt, discussed the alliance's next moves in Kosovo last Friday.

Alliance supreme commander General Wesley Clark has called for several thousand more troops. He has said too many units have been quietly whittled back from full strength and that some allies were refusing duty outside their designated area.

Clark said this was hampering KFOR's ability to deal with flashpoints such as the northern city of Mitrovica, divided between ethnic Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has said there was no peacekeeping crisis in Kosovo and pledged that the mission will be kept up to strength.

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