French defense minister defends European role in Kosovo

PARIS, Mar 20, 2000 -- (Reuters) The United States could have prevented Eurocorps officers taking command of the KFOR peacekeeping mission, French Defence Minister Alain Richard said Sunday, rebuffing implied US critcism of the changeover.

Richard, interviewed on French television, was responding to comments made Saturday by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about European difficulties in Kosovo.

Albright singled out the frequent change of commander as one of the major problems affecting the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

"If the United States had really wanted to oppose Eurocorps' takeover of KFOR, they had all the means to do so," he said.

He added that Washington had in any case been "in favour" of the decision.

Eurocorps troops, which are made up of divisions from the French, German, Belgian, Spanish and Luxembourg armed forces, are set to take the lead role in NATO's multinational force in Kosovo next month.

Currently under the command of German general Klaus Reinhardt, the peacekeeping force will be headed from April by Eurocorps' Spanish commander, General Juan Ortuno.

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