PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP)December,26— Serbia on Monday placed its security troops on the border with Kosovo in “the full state of combat readiness,” ignoring NATO’s calls for calming down tensions between the two wartime Balkan foes.
Serbia’s Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic said he “ordered the full combat readiness” of police and other security units and that they are placed under the command of the army chief of staff according to “their operational plan.”
He said in a statement that he acted on the orders of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic so that “all measures be taken to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo.”
It was not immediately clear what this order meant on the ground as Serbian troops have been on alert for a while on the border with Kosovo. Officials claim alleged harassment of Kosovo Serbs by ethnic Albanians who are a majority in the breakaway province that declared its independence in 2008.
Earlier Monday, NATO-led peacekeepers said they were investigating a shooting incident in a tense northern region of Kosovo, urging calm as Serbia’s top military officials inspected their troops on the border in a show of combat readiness.
The incident on Sunday evening took place in Zubin Potok, a town where local ethnic Serbs have been manning road barricades for the past two weeks and where tensions have been running high. Years after the 1998-99 war ended with NATO intervention, Kosovo remains a potential flashpoint in the Balkans. Serbia has not recognized the former state’s 2008 declaration of independence, but Western attempts at mediation have so far failed.
Fear of violence has increased since Russia’s war in Ukraine began. The United States and most European Union countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia relies on Russia and China to maintain its claims to Kosovo.
Rising tensions address several issues in international efforts to strengthen mediation efforts. Most recently, Serbs erected barricades in the north to protest the arrest of a former Serb police officer.
Northern Serbs had previously left Kosovar facilities, claiming they had been harassed by Kosovo authorities. I warn you repeatedly.
The Kosovar government asked NATO forces deployed in 1999 to remove roadblocks in Serbia after the Atlantic Alliance bombed Serbia to leave Kosovo. Prime Minister Alvin Curti, KFOR’s Angelo Michele Ristocha Rear Admiral Lars Gunnar Wigermark, who heads the EU’s law and order mission, met on Monday to discuss the situation, KFOR said on Twitter. Kurti’s office said, “The overall conclusion of this meeting is that freedom of movement should be restored and that no street should be barricaded.”
After the shootings, Serbia held a high-level meeting on Sunday and the army chief of staff then drove to the southern town of Raska near Kosovo, where Serb forces are stationed. Local media released videos of gunshots and screams being heard, but he at the barricade did not clarify what happened at one.
Serbian military vehicles were seen on the streets of the region on Monday, and the defence minister of the Balkan province also arrived. Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic, General Mojlović and other senior officials discussed the security situation at a meeting in Raska, the defence said. The ministry said in a statement. Serbia has asked KFOR to deploy up to 1,000 troops in Serb-populated northern Kosovo to protect Kosovar Serbs from harassment by the Albanians, who make up the majority of the country.