Another European flashpoint on the brink of conflict: Serbia puts its troops on high alert on border with Kosovo as tensions reach boiling point
- Serbs erected roadblocks in northern Kosovo, defying international demands
- Serbia also put its troops near the border on a high level of combat readiness
- The barriers, made of heavily loaded trucks, were put up overnight in Mitrovica
Another European flashpoint is on the brink of conflict as Serbia puts its troops on high alert on the border with Kosovo.
Serbs today erected more roadblocks in northern Kosovo and defied international demands to remove those placed earlier.
It comes a day after Serbia put its troops near the border on a high level of combat readiness, as tensions reach boiling point.
The new barriers, made of heavily loaded trucks, were put up overnight in Mitrovica, a northern Kosovo town divided between Kosovo Serbs and ethnic Albanians – who represent the majority in the country as a whole.
Serbs today erected more roadblocks in northern Kosovo and defied international demands to remove those placed earlier
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (pictured) has said he ordered the army’s highest state of alert to ‘protect our people (in Kosovo) and preserve Serbia’
It was the first time since the recent crisis started that Serbs have blocked streets in one of the main towns. Until now, barricades had been set on roads leading to the Kosovo-Serbia border.
Many Serbians see Kosovo as their country’s birthplace and do not recognise its sovereignty.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has said he ordered the army’s highest state of alert to ‘protect our people (in Kosovo) and preserve Serbia.’
He claimed that Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, is preparing to ‘attack’ Kosovo Serbs in the north of the country.
The president also claimed it planned to remove by force several of the roadblocks that Serbs started putting up 18 days ago to protest the arrest of a former Kosovo Serb police officer.
Vucic addressed reporters together with Serbian Patriarch Porfirije, who was barred yesterday from entering Kosovo and visiting a medieval Serb church there before Serbian Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7.
The Serbian president blasted the West and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian authorities of plotting together to ‘trigger unrest and kill the Serbs’ manning the barricades.
It was the first time since the recent crisis started that Serbs have blocked streets in one of the main towns
Vucic addressed reporters together with Serbian Patriarch Porfirije (left), who was barred by Kosovo authorities on Monday from entering Kosovo and visiting a medieval Serb church there before Serbian Orthodox Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7
‘Their aim is to expel Serbia out of Kosovo … with the help of their agents in Belgrade,’ he said, seemingly referring to the rare opposition and independent media, which are critical of his handling of the Kosovo crisis and his increasingly autocratic policies.
Nevertheless, Vucic said he is currently negotiating with European Union and U.S. mediators ‘on preserving peace and finding a compromise solution’ for the crisis.
Kosovo officials have accused Vucic of using Serbia’s state media to stir up trouble and trigger incidents that could act as a pretext for an armed intervention in the former Serbian province.
Petar Petkovic, a Serbian government official in charge of contacts with Kosovo Serbs, told Serbian state television RTS that the combat readiness of Serb troops was introduced because Kosovo had done the same thing.
He claimed that heavily armed Kosovo units want to attack Kosovo Serbs, including ‘women, the elderly, children, men. Our people who at the barricades are just defending the right to live.’
Kosovo has asked Nato-led peacekeepers stationed there to remove the barriers and hinted that Pristina’s forces will do it if the KFOR force doesn’t react.
Kosovo has asked Nato-led peacekeepers stationed there to remove the barriers and hinted that Pristina’s forces will do it if the KFOR force doesn’t react
About 4,000 Nato-led peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo since the 1999 war, which ended with Belgrade losing control over the territory.
Any Serbian armed intervention in Kosovo would likely result in a clash with Nato forces and would mean a major escalation of tensions in the Balkans, which are still reeling from the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Tensions between Kosovo, which declared independence after a war in 2008, and Serbia have reached their peak over the past month.
Western attempts to reach a negotiated settlement have failed, with Serbia refusing to recognise Kosovo’s statehood.
KFOR and the EU have both asked Pristina and Belgrade to show restraint and avoid provocations.
Kosovo remains a potential flashpoint in the Balkans years after the 1998-99 Kosovo war that ended with a Nato intervention that pushed Serbian troops out of the former Serbian province.