Serbian Army on standby amid Kosovo tensions – Belgrade
Serbia has placed its army and police on high alert amid a tense standoff between Belgrade and the breakaway region of Kosovo. Officials say armed personnel are ready to intervene to defend the local Serb population.
“The president of Serbia, as the commander-in-chief, has ordered tonight that the Serbian Armed Forces be at the highest level of combat readiness, meaning the preparedness to use their armed potential,” Defense Minister Milos Vucevic told Tanjug news agency on Monday. He added that the government would ensure that “all measures are taken to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo.”
Kosovo is predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians, but has a Serb majority in its northern areas. Serbia pulled its troops from Kosovo in 1999 after NATO intervened in support of a local Albanian armed insurgency, bombing Belgrade and other Serbian cities. NATO peacekeepers have since been deployed to the region, which ultimately declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Serbia still considers Kosovo to be part of its own territory.
Tensions have been brewing in recent months as the Kosovo authorities demanded that the Serbian community only use Kosovo-issued license plates instead of those issued by Belgrade. The situation deteriorated further this month when local Serbs erected roadblocks to protest the arrest of a former police officer accused of attacking municipal election commission offices.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has called for the barricades to be taken down.
Belgrade asked the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force to allow the deployment of Serbian military and police to Kosovo. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which formalized the end of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign, Belgrade can send up to 1,000 personnel to protect the Serb-populated areas and border crossings if the request is approved by the leader of the peacekeeping force.