Armed ethnic Serbs attacked police in north Kosovo, resulting in the deaths of one policeman and three attackers. This incident marks a resurgence of violence in the restive north, which has been plagued by unrest for years. The siege primarily took place at a Serbian Orthodox monastery near the village of Banjska, where monks and pilgrims sought refuge inside a temple during the shootout. Authorities in Kosovo and Serbia confirmed the casualties.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, has a population that is predominantly ethnic Albanian. However, approximately 50,000 Serbs in the north have never recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and still consider Belgrade as their capital. This ongoing dispute stems from a Kosovo Albanian guerrilla uprising against Serbian rule over two decades ago.
The attack began when a group of Kosovo Serbs positioned trucks on a bridge leading to the village and opened fire on approaching police. The confrontation later shifted to the nearby monastery. The Serbian Orthodox Church reported that the gunmen had left the monastery during the night, but their whereabouts remained unknown. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic condemned the violence and stated that it was a rebellion against the refusal of Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Kurti, to establish an association of Serb municipalities in north Kosovo. Vucic emphasized that Serbia would never recognize independent Kosovo.
Vucic also expressed concern over the injuries sustained by two Serbs and the potential death of another. He condemned the killing of the police officer and called for restraint from Kosovo Serbs. The Serbian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Raska-Prizren, which includes Banjska, reported that armed individuals in an armored vehicle entered the monastery compound, forcing monks and worshippers to lock themselves inside the temple. Kosovo police later entered the monastery to search for possible infiltrators among the worshippers. Three police personnel were injured, and one officer was killed during the operation.
The discovery of a significant number of heavy weapons, explosives, and uniforms indicated preparations for a large-scale assault, according to Kosovo’s Interior Minister. The international community expressed concern over the violence, with the head of the U.N. mission in Kosovo and the European Union foreign policy chief condemning the incident. NATO troops, along with members of the EU police force EULEX and Kosovo police, were seen patrolling the road leading to Banjska. Kosovo border police closed two crossings with Serbia in response to the situation.
The conflict in north Kosovo is rooted in the demand by Serbs for the implementation of a 2013 EU-brokered deal that would create an association of autonomous municipalities in their area. However, Pristina views this plan as a means of effectively partitioning the country along ethnic lines. EU-sponsored talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo stalled recently, with Kurti being blamed for the lack of progress in establishing the association. Serbia officially considers Kosovo part of its territory but denies allegations of inciting unrest within its neighbor’s borders. Belgrade accuses Pristina of violating the rights of minority Serbs.
Tensions escalated when ethnic Albanian mayors assumed office in north Kosovo following elections in April, which the Serbs boycotted. Clashes in May resulted in numerous injuries among protesters and NATO peacekeepers. NATO currently maintains 3,700 troops in Kosovo, a significant reduction from the original force of 50,000 deployed in 1999. The area of north Kosovo, where Serbs are the majority, is closely tied to Serbia in terms of local administration, public services, and infrastructure projects funded by Belgrade.
The article was reported by Fatos Bytyci, written by Daria Sito-Sucic, and edited by Bernadette Baum and Andrew Cawthorne. The Thomson RushHourDaily Trust Principles guide their journalistic standards.
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