The US and its allies have expressed grave concern over the deployment of a large Serbian military force along the border with Kosovo, which they said was an unprecedented and destabilizing move. The White House called on Serbia to withdraw its troops and equipment immediately and to refrain from any actions that could escalate the situation.
The tension between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, flared up last week after a deadly shootout between Serb paramilitaries and Kosovo police near a monastery in northern Kosovo. Four people were killed in the incident, which Kosovo said was an attempt by Serbia to provoke a conflict and justify a military intervention.
Serbia, which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, accused Kosovo of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Serb minority in the north, and declared a day of mourning for the three dead Kosovo Serbs. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, also put the army on alert and ordered the deployment of tanks, artillery and mechanized infantry units to the border.
The US and its allies condemned the violence and urged both sides to resume dialogue and normalize relations. The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the Kosovan prime minister, Albin Kurti, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, spoke to Vučić, calling for immediate de-escalation. The US also said it was consulting with allies to ensure that the Nato peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Kfor, had sufficient resources to deal with the threat.
The UK sent 150 troops to reinforce Kfor, which has been present in Kosovo since 1999 to maintain security and stability. The UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said the deployment was a “clear demonstration of our unwavering commitment to regional security”. The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, also urged Serbia to respect Kfor’s mandate and role, and warned that any attack on Kfor would be “unacceptable”.
Kosovo police said they raided several locations in the Serb-dominated north on Friday in connection with Sunday’s shootout. They said they seized weapons and explosives and arrested several suspects. Kosovo also accused Serbia of providing military equipment to the Serb paramilitaries involved in the clash.
Serbia denied any involvement in the violence and said it was ready to defend its interests and people in Kosovo. Vučić said he hoped for a peaceful resolution but warned that Serbia would not allow anyone to “humiliate” or “trample” on it.
The EU, which has been mediating talks between Serbia and Kosovo since 2011, called on both parties to refrain from unilateral actions and inflammatory rhetoric and to engage constructively in dialogue. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he was ready to host a new round of talks as soon as possible.
The UN Security Council also held an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the situation in Kosovo. The UN envoy for Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, said he was alarmed by the recent developments and urged both sides to exercise restraint and respect international law.
The conflict between Serbia and Kosovo dates back to the 1990s when Kosovo was a province of Serbia under the former Yugoslavia. A brutal crackdown by Serbian forces on ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosovo triggered a Nato bombing campaign in 1999 that forced Serbia to withdraw its troops.