West issues ultimatum to Serbia – media
Several Western countries have “sent an ultimatum” to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, demanding that Serbs in the northern part of breakaway Kosovo end their stand-off with local authorities, news website Pink.rs reported on Sunday.
The outlet claims that ambassadors of the Quint group, comprising the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy, are calling for barricades in the region be removed within 24 hours. If Belgrade fails to comply, the Western powers will reportedly let Albin Kurti, Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian prime minister, attack local Serbs. Earlier, Kurti warned that the “removal of these barricades cannot exclude casualties.”
Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina flared up earlier this month when Serbs, who make up the majority in the northern part of province, put up barriers to protest against the arrest of a former police officer, accused of attacking a Kosovo law enforcement patrol.
After this, Vucic asked NATO’s KFOR peacekeepers for permission to deploy up to 1,000 Serbian troops and police officers in Kosovo, as it is entitled to do under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which put an end to the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999.
However, these plans were resisted by the US, with Gabriel Escobar, the State Department’s special envoy for the region, saying Washington had given Kosovo “very firm security guarantees.”
On Sunday, KFOR said that shots had been fired near a NATO patrol in northern part of Kosovo, close to the roadblocks, adding that there were no casualties. It stopped short of assigning blame. However, Serbian media, citing eyewitnesses, claimed that the incident took place when Kosovo’s special forces attempted to clear barricades near a town of Zubin Potok.
With no sign of tensions abating, Milan Mojsilovic, Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, told local media on Sunday that the situation is complex, and requires the presence of the Serbian military along the administrative line which divides Kosovo from the rest of Serbia.
NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999, after bombing Serbia on behalf of ethnic Albanian separatists. The province’s provisional government declared independence in 2008, which Belgrade has refused to recognize.