Gunmen in armored vehicles launched an attack on a village in a predominantly ethnic Serbian region of Kosovo. The violence occurred in the restive north of the country. Kosovo police reported that one officer and three attackers were killed in shootouts near the village of Banjska. During the siege, monks and pilgrims were trapped inside a Serbian Orthodox monastery. The majority of Kosovo’s population is made up of ethnic Albanians, but the north is predominantly Serbian. The Serbs in this region have never accepted Kosovo’s declaration of independence and still consider Belgrade as their capital. The perpetrators of the attack have not been identified, but Kosovo’s Prime Minister and Interior Minister blamed “Serbia-sponsored criminals.” Serbian officials have not yet commented on the incident. The Serbian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Raska-Prizren, which includes Banjska, condemned the violence and called for an end to the conflict. The attackers initially positioned heavy vehicles on a bridge leading to the village before heading to the monastery. In addition to the fatalities, three police officers were injured in the shootouts. The head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo and the EU foreign policy chief both condemned the violence and called for an immediate end to the attacks. NATO troops, along with EU and Kosovo police, were seen patrolling the road to Banjska. Journalists were not allowed to enter the village, and Kosovo border police closed two crossings with Serbia. The Serbs in north Kosovo have long demanded the implementation of a 2013 deal for the creation of autonomous municipalities in their area. EU-sponsored talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo stalled recently, with the EU blaming Kosovo’s Prime Minister for the lack of progress. The plan for autonomous municipalities is seen by Pristina as a way to partition the country along ethnic lines. Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory and accuses Pristina of violating the rights of minority Serbs. Tensions escalated when ethnic Albanian mayors took office in north Kosovo after elections that the Serbs boycotted. NATO currently has 3,700 peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. The area of north Kosovo, where Serbs are the majority, is heavily influenced by Serbia in terms of administration, public services, and infrastructure projects.
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