Serbia has condemned NATO-led peacekeepers stationed in neighbouring Kosovo for allegedly failing to stop “brutal actions” by Kosovo police against ethnic Serbs.
Serbia’s armed forces stationed near the border will remain on the highest state of alert until further notice, the government added.
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Serbia’s top political and security leadership, led by President Aleksandar Vucic, met in Belgrade on Saturday following violent clashes a day earlier between Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs that injured more than a dozen people.
In response to the clashes, Vucic on Friday ordered troops closer to the border with Kosovo.
“Due to the brutal use of force by [Kosovo Prime Minister] 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,” said a statement after the meeting of the top Serbian leadership.
The statement also said an international civilian mission and NATO-led troops – stationed in the former Serbian province since Serbian forces were forced to leave the region in 1999 – “did not do their job” to protect the Serbs.
NATO, meanwhile, urged Kosovo to dial down tensions with Serbia, a day after its government forcibly accessed municipal buildings to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas in the north of the country.
“We urge the institutions in Kosovo to de-escalate immediately & call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for the transatlantic military alliance, in a Twitter post.
She said KFOR, the 3,800-strong NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, would remain vigilant.
Almost a decade after the end of a war there, Serbs in Kosovo’s northern region do not accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital.
Ethnic Albanians form more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, with Serbs only the majority in the northern region.
The United States and several Western countries condemned Kosovo’s government for using police to forcibly allow entry to the municipal buildings. Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti on Saturday defended the police action.
“It is the right of those elected in democratic elections to assume office without threats or intimidation,” Kurti said on Twitter. “It is also the right of citizens to be served by those elected officials. Participation – not violent obstruction – is the proper way to express political views in a democracy.”
It was not the first time that Vucic has warned that Belgrade would respond to violence against Serbs, and he has stepped up combat readiness several times during moments of tension with Kosovo.
However, any attempt by Serbia to send its troops over the border would mean a clash with NATO troops stationed there.