Saber rattles on the border – Serbia puts troops on heightened alert

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To enforce a ban on Serbian license plates in Kosovo, Pristina has stationed a special unit at two border posts. Belgrade sees this as a «provocation» and reacts promptly.

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The special forces of the Kosovar police have been posted at two border crossings in the north of the country.

AFP

The situation on site is tense.

The situation on site is tense.

REUTERS

Around 300 Serbs demonstrated against the new restrictions.

Around 300 Serbs demonstrated against the new restrictions.

REUTERS

Because of the stationing of special units of the Kosovar police in the border region, which was perceived as a «provocation», Serbia has put its army on heightened alert. After the “provocation” by the special forces from Kosovo, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic gave the order to put some units of the Serbian army and police on heightened alert, the Ministry of Defense announced in Belgrade on Sunday. The EU and NATO called on both sides to exercise restraint.

Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic visited troops in two army bases on Sunday. One of them is near the border with Kosovo.

The special forces of the police of Kosovo had previously been posted at two border crossings in the north of the country. In the area there are predominantly members of the minority ethnic Serbs who do not recognize the authority of the ethnic Albanian-led government in the capital Pristina.

Kosovar government reports attempted attacks

The police units were stationed in accordance with an order from the Kosovar government, according to which motorists with Serbian license plates are obliged to put up provisional license plates when entering Kosovo. Hundreds of ethnic Serbs have protested against the requirement every day since the order last Monday and used vehicles to obstruct traffic at the border crossings. According to the Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, there were attempted attacks on the local road traffic authorities in two cities on Saturday. Unknown people had started a fire in Zubin Potok, and a hand grenade was thrown into the public building in Zvecan, but it did not detonate.

From Belgrade’s point of view, license plates from Kosovo imply its status as an independent nation. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008. However, the government in Belgrade still does not recognize independence and regards Kosovo as a breakaway province. Serbia’s ally Russia, unlike most Western countries, including the USA, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. In 2016, the two states reached an agreement, according to which the respective license plates are recognized by the other state if the country certificate is pasted over. The agreement ended on September 15, according to the Kosovar authorities according to ABC News.

De-escalation required

Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani broke off her visit to the UN in New York in view of the developments in her country. Albania expressed concern about the recent “escalation of the situation” and called on Serbia to withdraw its troops from the border region.

The EU foreign representative Josep Borrell called on both sides to calm the situation. The special police forces would have to be withdrawn immediately. “Any further provocation or unilateral and uncoordinated action is unacceptable,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also called for moderation. “It is important that Belgrade and Pristina exercise restraint and resume the dialogue,” he said on Twitter after a phone call with the Serbian President and the Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

(AFP / chk / pme)

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