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Serbia’s Vucic seeks NATO approval to send forces to northern Kosovo

The Serbian president said he had “no illusions” that NATO would accept his request amid tension in northern Kosovo.

Serbia will ask NATO peacekeepers to allow it to deploy Serbian military and police officers to Kosovo’s volatile north, though it believes there is no chance the request will be approved, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, warned last month of the potential for “escalation and violence” after emergency talks between Kosovo and Serbia failed to resolve their longstanding dispute over license plates for cars used. by the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo.

Belgrade’s proposal to send its forces into the former Serbian province, and now independent Kosovo, could escalate already simmering tensions in the Balkan states.

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Vucic told a news conference in Belgrade on Saturday that he would make the request to deploy Serb forces in a letter to the commander of NATO’s KFOR mission, the alliance’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

“We will ask the KFOR commander to ensure the deployment of Republic of Serbia army and police personnel on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija,” Vucic said, adding that he had “no illusions” that the request would be accepted. .

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attends a press conference.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic [File: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

The request to NATO would be the first time Belgrade has attempted to deploy troops to Kosovo under the provisions of a UN Security Council resolution that ended a 1998-1999 war and in which NATO interceded against Serbia to protect to the Kosovo Albanian majority.

The resolution says Serbia could deploy up to 1,000 military, police and customs officials to Orthodox Christian religious sites, areas with Serb majorities and border crossings, if such deployment is approved by the KFOR commander. At the time of the resolution, Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008, was still recognized as part of Serbia.

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Belgrade, with the support of Russia and China, has refused to recognize statehood for Kosovo.

NATO still has around 3,700 peacekeepers stationed in the former Serbian province to prevent violence between Albanians and Serbs.

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‘Destabilize the region’

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s office said Serbia’s move would be “an act of aggression” and an indication of Serbia’s “tendencies to destabilize the region.”

Vucic’s comments come after a series of incidents and rising tension between the Kosovo authorities and Kosovo Serbs, who make up the majority in the northern parts of Kosovo.

On Saturday, Kosovo Serbs exchanged fire with police officers in the volatile north, and Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani announced that local elections scheduled for December 18 in the area would be delayed until next year.

The shooting came after Serbs blocked major roads in the northern region to protest the arrest of a former Kosovo police officer who resigned last month along with other ethnic Serb officers.

Pristina authorities said former police officer Dejan Pantic was arrested for allegedly attacking electoral commission offices, police officers and election officials on Tuesday.

Serbian mayors of northern Kosovo municipalities, along with local judges and some 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest of the government’s decision to replace Belgrade-issued license plates with those issued by Pristina.

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Kosovar Serb policemen removing their uniforms in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo.
Police officers remove their uniforms in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo, in November 2022 as members of Kosovo’s ethnic minority Serbs resigned en masse from their posts to protest the dismissal of a senior Serb police officer who failed to respected the Kosovo government’s decision to change vehicles. license plates [File: Bojan Slavkovic/AP Photo]

Police said Saturday’s blockade halted traffic and they were forced to close two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. Later, they said they were attacked in several places near a lake on the Serbian border. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

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In an effort to defuse tensions, Kosovo President Osmani announced the postponement until April 23 of local elections in the northern municipalities of Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and Leposavic.

The EU has also warned both Serbia and Kosovo to settle their disputes peacefully and normalize relations if they want to be considered eligible for membership of the bloc.

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