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Serbia highlights importance of Chinese defence equipment

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese military equipment has strengthened the Serbian armed forces significantly, its deputy prime minister told Chinese state media, in particular an air-defence system and drones.

"Regarding bilateral Serbia-China relations, I would single out military-to-military cooperation, as well as economic cooperation and numerous investments, which are very important for our country," Milos Vucevic, who is also defence minister, told the state-controlled Global Times in an interview published on Sunday.

Vucevic said efforts to equip and modernise the armed forces were intended for defence.

China's President Xi Jinping urged stronger strategic coordination with "ironclad friend" Serbia when he met its president, Aleksandar Vucic, in Beijing last week, pledging support for Serbia in safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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Vucevic said China's FK-3 medium-range anti-aircraft missile system and its CH-95 and CH-92A UAVs had "undoubtedly" been among the most important defence system Serbia had acquired.

The Balkan country showed off its Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles along with other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West in April last year.

Serbia bought the FK-3 surface-to-air defence system, similar to Russia's S-300 or the U.S. Patriot system, in 2019. It was delivered last year.

Tensions have been running high in recent months between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and 1999 NATO intervention.

Both the United States, and Russia, which traditionally supports Serbia, have said they are monitoring the situation.

Vucevic said Serbia would enhance its capabilities to protect its independence but did not spell out whether it would acquire more Chinese military equipment.

However, he said he was certain the two countries would develop their relations as China was one of Serbia's "most reliable" friends.

(Reporting by Liz Lee; editing by Robert Birsel)