By Linda Karadaku
Kosovo is looking towards a more stable military future, now that it has joined neighbours in fostering co-operation with US military forces by signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
The SOFA agreement, signed on February 18th in Pristina, defines the legal status of the US military in the territory of another nation. It delineates the rights and responsibilities between the US and host governments regarding criminal and civil jurisdiction, tax and customs matters, entry and exit of personal property, and resolving damage claims. The United States maintains SOFA agreements with many nations worldwide.
Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Albania have all signed SOFA agreements with the US.
Kosovo defence expert Naim Maloku, a former officer and currently an external adviser for the ministry of environment and spatial planning, says the agreement is very important.
“The first [result of] this agreement is that Kosovo appointed its first military attaché abroad — Xhevat Gashi, military attaché to the United States,” Maloku told SETimes, adding the agreement will also facilitate Kosovo’s NATO bid.
Centre for Security Studies director Ramadan Qehaja says the agreement is based on the Law on SOFA approved by parliament last year.
“The importance of this agreement [is] the fact that co-operation between Kosovo and the United States is legalised,” Qehaja told SETimes.
Opposition MP Burim Ramadani notes “The main difference between the agreement with Kosovo and similar agreements signed with other countries is that the United States will have an important role in the establishment of Kosovo’s armed forces.”
Blerim Limani, spokesperson for the Ministry of Kosovo Security Forces (KSF), told SETimes that the agreement “provides assistance for all the pillars of the KSF mission — firefighting, search and rescue, hazardous material disposal and explosive ordnance disposal”.
Kosovo has also launched co-operation with other regional countries that have signed the SOFA agreement.
Macedonian Defence Minister Fatmir Besimi met in Pristina on Tuesday (February 21st) with senior KSF officials, including Minister Agim Ceku.
Besim and Ceku discussed co-operation between the two ministries in the areas of security, defence, health, military training and the joint contribution to preserving peace in the region.
“This will help the development of the KSF and will strengthen our co-operation. [It will help to] prepare the KSF to undertake even more … duties within and outside the country in NATO-led operations,” Ceku said.
Mentor Beqa, a political adviser to the Albanian Ministry of Defence, told SETimes that the SOFA agreement ensures the rights and privileges of the troops in a host country and also facilitates the movements of troops, military means and weapons.
Albania has benefitted from such an agreement, which also facilitated its membership into NATO.