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Ukraine to start pullout of peacekeepers from Kosovo - report

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Zelenskiy attends a joint news briefing with Dutch Prime Minister Rutte in Kyiv

BELGRADE/PRISTINA (Reuters) -Ukraine is to start the pullout of its peacekeepers from the NATO-led mission in Kosovo, the RBK-Ukraine news portal reported on Wednesday, citing sources from Ukraine's military command.

Ukraine currently maintains a contingent of 40 peacekeepers in Kosovo as part of the 3,800-strong NATO-led KFOR mission, but in March President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a decree ordering all missions to return home to help in the war with Russia.

"The return of the (Ukrainian) national contingent will mean the temporary termination of its participation in the KFOR mission," RBK-Ukraine quoted Ukraine's army command as saying.

It also said that the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Kosovo was in line with Zelenskiy's March 7 decree ordering missions to come home following Russia's invasion on Feb 24.

A NATO official confirmed the reports saying that the withdrawal would not affect its peacekeeping mission.

“Ukraine has been a valuable contributor to our peacekeeping mission. ... We welcome the country’s long-standing contributions to our daily efforts in support to all communities living in Kosovo,” the official said.

The NATO peacekeeping mission deployed to Kosovo in 1999 after the alliance's 78-day bombing campaign forced Serbian troops to end their crackdown against Albanians in the now-independent Kosovo, formerly a southern province of Serbia.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and is recognised by over 100 countries, but not by others, including Ukraine, five European Union member countries, Russia and China.

The government in Belgrade, which remains opposed to Kosovo's independence, recognises Ukraine in its entirety and has three times condemned the Russian invasion in the UN.

But Serbia, which is almost completely dependant on Russian gas, also refuses to join sanctions against Moscow.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)