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Serbian border troops maintain highest level of alert after ethnic conflict inside Kosovo

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BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbia on Saturday condemned NATO-led peacekeepers stationed in neighboring Kosovo for their alleged failure to stop “brutal actions” by Kosovo police against ethnic Serbs, and said its armed forces stationed near the border Will remain at the highest position. Alert until further notice.

Serbia’s top political and security leadership, led by President Aleksandar Vucic, met in Belgrade on Saturday after violent clashes a day earlier between Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs left more than a dozen people injured.

In response to the clashes, Vucic on Friday ordered troops closer to the border with Kosovo.

“Due to the brutal use of force by (Prime Minister of Kosovo) Albin Kurti and his forces against the Serbian people in Kosovo … the Armed Forces of the Republic of Serbia will remain at the highest level of combat readiness,” it said in a statement on Saturday. Meeting of the top Serbian leadership.

The statement also said that an international civilian mission and NATO-led forces, which have been stationed in the former Serbian province since Serbian troops were forced to leave the area in 1999, have “done their part” to protect the Serbs. didn’t work”.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Longescu urged “institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately” and called on all parties to “resolve the situation through dialogue”.

She said on Twitter that NATO “remains vigilant and will ensure a safe and secure environment in Kosovo”.

Kosovo police officers guard a municipal building following violent clashes between police and ethnic Serbs yesterday in the town of Zvekan, northern Kosovo, Saturday, May 27, 2023. Stop the “brutal crackdown” by Kosovo police against ethnic Serbs and said its armed forces deployed near the border will remain on the highest level of alert until further notice. Credit: AP/Dejan Simisevic

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo, who are the majority in that part of the country, tried to prevent recently elected ethnic Albanian officials from entering municipal buildings on Friday. Last month’s snap local election was largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs and only ethnic Albanian or other small minority representatives were elected to mayoral posts and assemblies.

Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and allowed the new officers into their offices. Many cars were set on fire.

The United States and many Western countries condemned the use of the police by the government of Kosovo to allow forcible entry into municipal buildings. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Kurti defended the police action on Saturday.

“People elected in democratic elections have the right to hold office without fear or intimidation,” Kurti said on Twitter. “It is also the right of the citizens to get service by those elected officials. Participation – not violent obstruction – is the proper way of expressing political views in a democracy.”

Kosovo police officers guard a municipal building following violent clashes between police and ethnic Serbs yesterday in the town of Zvekan, northern Kosovo, Saturday, May 27, 2023. Stop the “brutal crackdown” by Kosovo police against ethnic Serbs and said its armed forces deployed near the border will remain on the highest level of alert until further notice. Credit: AP/Dejan Simisevic

It is not the first time that Vucic has warned that Belgrade would respond with violence against Serbs, and he has raised war readiness several times during moments of tension with Kosovo. However, any attempt by Serbia to send its troops to the border would mean a conflict with NATO troops stationed there.

The conflict in Kosovo began in 1998 when separatist ethnic Albanians revolted against Serbian rule, and Serbia responded with brutal crackdowns. About 13,000 people were killed, mostly ethnic Albanians.

NATO’s military intervention in 1999 eventually forced Serbia out of the region. Washington and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.