by Alessandro de Pascale
The arrest of three Kosovar special police officers near the Serbian border on 14 June has once again raised tensions between the two Balkan countries. They are accused of crossing into Serbian territory in violation of international agreements. For Belgrade, they are ‘terrorists’ who have entered its territory at least 6km (in the village of Gnjilica), armed with automatic weapons, in full military gear and with orientation and surveillance equipment. The Pristina government denies the accusations and speaks of a real kidnapping of its border units, claiming they were captured in Kosovo, 1.3km from the border.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, speaks of an ‘aggression against the democratic state’. He claims it’s Serbian ‘revenge’ for the 14 June arrest in Kosovska Mitrovica of Milun Milenkovic, a Serbian kickboxing trainer believed to have masterminded the 29 May clashes in Zvecan. But for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the government in Pristina just wants to get noticed so as to “get rid of the Serbs from northern Kosovo forever”. According to him, in 2023 not a single shooting involved the Albanian population, compared to 600 cases of shooting against the Serb minority living in the enclaves in the north of the country.
The situation is so tense that the ambassadors of the QUINT countries (the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Italy) have met urgently with the head of the EU representation in Serbia. They appealed to their governments to “do everything in their power to prevent Kurti from provoking a new war in the Balkans”, i.e. in Europe. For the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, the Kosovar security forces operating in northern Kosovo, where the Serbian minority lives, should always coordinate with the NATO mission Kfor and the EU mission Eulex.
Brussels is concerned. So much so that it has issued a warning to the government in Pristina. “Despite our repeated appeals, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has so far failed to take decisive steps to reduce tensions” in the north of the country, said Borrell’s spokesman Peter Stano. The European Commission then announced that it had prepared “proposals for measures with immediate effect”, but specified that these would not be sanctions against the Balkan state. Although, according to one of our sources in Eulex, there could be the prospect of “almost a commissionerate” of some departments of the Kosovan executive. The EU and its member states “unanimously reaffirmed that they expect” Kosovo and Serbia to “de-escalate recent tensions” following the “recent escalation” in the northern areas where the Serb minority lives, culminating in the wounding of 41 soldiers from NATO’s Kfor mission, EU High Representative spokesman Stano added.
This is happening on the EU front. On the Atlantic Alliance front, Italian General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, commander of Kfor, went to Belgrade yesterday to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, expressing ‘deep concern’ about recent developments. Pristina and Belgrade are not new to tension and incidents. Kosovo is a former province of Serbia (with a population of less than 2 million and an Albanian majority) which, after the war of 1999, declared its independence in 2008, thus completing the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. The United States, NATO and the European Union backed this choice, including militarily, by supporting the UCK guerrillas, which until recently had been considered a terrorist organisation. The Atlantic Alliance’s military mission Kfor (more than 4,500 troops) and the EU’s expert mission Eulex remain on the ground to guarantee peace. Belgrade and its main allies, Russia and China, have never recognised Kosovo’s status as an independent country, unlike the US and the main EU countries.
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