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A file image of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar inspecting a military Guard of Honour. Alamy Stock Photo
Western Balkans

Taoiseach heads to Balkans to visit Irish troops in Kosovo and for talks on EU enlargement

The Taoiseach will meet the troops and gardaí during a visit to the western Balkans.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR will today visit Irish troops as well garda and Irish officials working on peacebuilding missions in Kosovo.

Varadkar, along with Irish Defence Forces Chief of Staff Seán Clancy as well as Department of Defence General Secretary Jacqui McCrum, are in Kosovo to visit Irish troops in the country working on the NATO led KFOR peace mission.

The KFOR mission began in 1999 with 50,000 troops from 36 NATO & non-NATO nations, including Ireland.

For a time 210 Irish troops were deployed but as the security environment improved the numbers were reduced. 

Currently there are 13 personnel in key management positions headed by Colonel Tim Daly, in the KFOR Headquarters.

In total there are 4,885 troops provided by 27 countries.

It forms part of a western Balkans tour which will see Varadkar visit Montenegro and North Macedonia which are candidates for EU membership.

Kosovo was scene to ethnic violence in a war with its neighbours Serbia in the late 1990s following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. 

In recent months violence has erupted in the country between Kosovar authorities and Serbian nationalists. A number of NATO troops were injured in clashes last May. 

The gardaí and civilian experts are part of a European mission working on a project on the Rule of Law standards in the country.

The focus of the trip will be to discuss their applications for EU membership along with local and regional security issues.

During his visit today to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, the Taoiseach will be briefed on the missions and meet the Irish representatives. 

He will also meet Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu. He will then travel to Montenegro to meet Prime Minister Milojko Spajić, and President Jakov Milatović.

On Friday, he will visit Northern Macedonia to meet Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski and President Stevo Pendarovski.

It is a long running policy by Ireland to advocate for countries in the western Balkans to aim for full EU membership.

It is understood that Varadkar will discuss the reforms needed in the various countries to progress the application made in 2005. 

It is also anticipated other talking points will be peace and security challenges, global issues such as Russia’s war on Ukraine, the situation in Gaza, and ways to strengthen bilateral ties between Ireland and the Western Balkans.

Ahead of his visit the Taoiseach paid tribute to the Irish troops, the gardaí and other officials working on peace building missions. 

“The future of Kosovo, Montenegro, and North Macedonia lies within the EU, and I know that all three countries are committed to implementing the necessary reforms.

“I look forward to discussing how we in Ireland, and our partners across Europe, can help these three countries to achieve full EU membership.

“I will particularly encourage the leaders of Kosovo to focus their efforts on normalising relations with Serbia, under the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, which is essential for their path to EU membership,” he said.