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“Bomb” ready to explode in Kosovo


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Resurgence of tension and risk of a new crisis in the Balkans

By Athena Papakosta

Serbia is putting its security troops on high alert on its border with Kosovo, ignoring NATO calls for calm in the region between the two states – “eternal enemies” in the Balkans.

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The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, said that he “will take every necessary measure to protect the people of Serbia and the country” while, earlier, the country’s interior minister, Bratislava Gacic, ordered police forces and the other security forces which are placed under the instructions of the Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, according to the “operational plan” of Belgrade.

On Monday, NATO’s international peacekeeping force was investigating a shooting incident in northern Kosovo near a KFOR patrol, appealing for calm on both sides while senior Serbian military officials inspected Serbian troops on the border.

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The Serbian side claimed it was “battles” that took place early Monday night when Kosovar forces tried to break up a roadblock in one of the four largest municipalities in the north, Zubin Potok. Kosovo police responded that their officers were not involved in any exchange of fire.

Defense Minister Milos Vucevic clarified that Aleksandar Vucic ordered the Serbian military presence to be increased by 1,500 soldiers, bringing the total number to 5,000 by the end of the new year.

Relations between the two states are on a tightrope with tension accompanied by reports in the Serbian media that Kosovo is preparing a police operation against the Serbian minority in its northern part. For its part, Pristina has not responded to the accusations, while it had earlier accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of playing games to cause trouble.

For his part, Kosovo’s interior minister, Bratislava Gacic, said that Serbia, under the influence of Russia, aims to destabilize the country and that it is ordering the construction of new barricades to “justify the criminal groups that terrorize”. At the same time, the Serbian president visited the Patriarch of the Serbs, Porfirio, and discussed the situation with the Patriarch appealing to all to exercise prudence in order to avoid armed conflict.

In recent months, Kosovo and Serbia have been engaged in a war of words.

In early December, Serbian protesters set up roadblocks in northern Kosovo paralyzing traffic to two border crossing points with Serbia. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has asked KFOR to remove the roadblocks. However, this has not been achieved and they remain in central places since December 10, while two more were added in Mitrovica yesterday. It was preceded by the arrest of a policeman of Serbian ethnicity, who was judged to be a suspect of involvement in attacks against Kosovar policemen.

This is Dejan Pantić, who is one of the total of 600 Serbian police officers who resigned en masse in early November as a sign of protest over the issue of Serbian license plates in Kosovo. At the same time, Pristina had ordered the deployment of strong police forces in areas of northern Kosovo as local elections were scheduled for the 18th of the month, but were postponed to April 23rd at the behest of the Kosovar president, Viosa Osmani.

In 2008, nine years after NATO’s military intervention, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia, which does not accept it and in its Constitution mentions Kosovo as an integral part of the country. Tension between Pristina and Belgrade remains with a new “round” already underway. KFOR and the EU call on Pristina and Belgrade to show restraint and avoid provocations. However, Western efforts for a negotiated compromise appear to be failing.

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