- Serbia’s President urged NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo to take over security responsibilities in the northern region after violent clashes between armed Serbs and Kosovo police resulted in casualties.
- The EU and US are facilitating negotiations between the two nations, although both sides have distanced themselves from a previously agreed EU plan.
- The recent conflict has raised tensions in the Balkans amid ongoing efforts by EU and US mediators to broker a normalization deal between the two historic rivals.
Serbia’s president on Tuesday asked NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo to take over security from police in the country’s north, days after violent clashes between armed Serbs and Kosovo police killed one officer and three armed.
A day-long exchange of fire in northern Kosovo on Sunday further raised tensions in the Balkan region at a time when European Union and US mediators are pushing for a deal that would normalize ties between the wartime foes.
The weekend violence was one of the worst clashes in Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Serbia of logistically supporting “the terrorist, criminal, professional unit” that clashed with the police. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic denied these claims, saying the gunmen were local Kosovo Serbs “who no longer want to endure Kurti’s terror”.
On Tuesday in Belgrade, Vucic met with ambassadors from five Western countries and the EU demanding that NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo, known as KFOR, take over “all security issues in northern Kosovo instead of Kurti’s police “.
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There are approximately 4,500 KFOR peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo. There was no immediate reaction from NATO to Vucic’s request, but it is highly unlikely that it will be granted because the primary duty of the troops is peacekeeping, not policing.
Vucic also said in an Instagram post that this is “one of the most difficult times for Serbia.” Earlier, the government declared a day of mourning on Wednesday due to “the tragic events”, referring to the shooting.
A Kosovo Serb party allied with Vucic declared three days of mourning starting Tuesday in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo for the three dead Serb attackers.
On Tuesday in Pristina, a Kosovo court decided to keep three of the six gunmen arrested for a month in pre-trial detention. They are accused of violating the country’s constitution and of terrorist acts.
On Sunday, about 30 men in combat uniforms opened fire on a police patrol near the village of Baniska in the early hours of the morning, killing one officer and injuring another. They then fled to a nearby Serbian Orthodox monastery, breaking down the gates with an armored personnel carrier before barricading themselves in priests and visiting pilgrims.
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The standoff ended when most of the assailants fled on foot under the cover of darkness on Sunday night. Three of the gunmen were shot and killed by police.
Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-99 war left over 10,000 dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move.
The EU, with the support of the US, mediated the negotiations between the two sides. In February, Kurti and Vucic gave their approval to a 10-point EU plan, but have since distanced themselves from the deal.