Peacekeepers reject Belgrade’s request to send up to 1,000 police and army personnel to Kosovo following clashes.
NATO’s mission in Kosovo has turned down a Serbian government request to send up to 1,000 Serbian police and army personnel to Kosovo after a spate of clashes between Serbs and Kosovo authorities.
Serbia’s former province of Kosovo declared independence in 2008 following the 1998-1999 war during which NATO bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo.
“They [KFOR, NATO’s mission in Kosovo] replied saying they consider that there is no need for the return of the Serbian army to Kosovo… citing the United Nations resolution approving their mandate in Kosovo,” Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said in an interview with Serbian Pink TV channel on Sunday.
Last month, for the first time since the end of the war, Serbia asked to deploy troops in Kosovo during a spate of clashes between Kosovo authorities and Serbs in the north of Kosovo, where they constitute a majority.
A UN Security Council resolution states that Serbia may be allowed, if approved by KFOR, to station its personnel at border crossings, Orthodox Christian religious sites and areas with Serb majorities.
Vucic criticised KFOR for informing Serbia of its decision on the eve of the Christian Orthodox Christmas after Kosovo police arrested an off-duty soldier suspected of shooting and wounding two young Serbs near the town of Shterpce.
Police said both victims, 11 and 21, were taken to hospital and their injuries were not life-threatening.
Serbian media reported that another young man was allegedly attacked and beaten by a group of Albanians early on Saturday as he was returning from church.
Serbian officials labelled the incidents “terrorist acts”, saying they demonstrated that Serbs were unwanted in Kosovo and announced protests in Shterpce on Sunday.
International organisations condemned the attacks, which are expected to deepen mistrust between the majority ethnic Albanians and approximately 100,000 ethnic Serbs that live in Kosovo.
Half of the ethnic Serbs live in the north and most refuse to recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Most of the others, in other parts of the country including Shterpce, recognise the Pristina government and participate in political life.
The conflict in Kosovo erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians launched a rebellion against Serbia’s rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown that prompted the NATO intervention.
Some 13,000 people died in the conflict, mostly ethnic Albanians.
Serbia insists that hundreds of its security forces have the right to redeploy under the United Nations resolution that followed the war and that the return of its troops to Kosovo would help lower tensions, a claim vehemently rejected by Kosovo and Western officials.
Vucic said KFOR’s response to Serbia’s demand was expected because of Western backing for Kosovo’s independence. Serbia has relied on Russia and China in its bid to retain its claim to its former province that many Serbs consider the nation’s heartland.
The West “was not worried about the wounding of the Serb boys”, Vucic complained on pro-government Pink television. “I did not expect a different answer from KFOR.”
Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told they must normalise relations if they want to advance towards EU membership. A senior US delegation is set to visit the region next week to help push forward the deadlocked EU-mediated talks.
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