Serbia lowers troop alert level amid Kosovo standoff – media
Serbia has lifted the state of full combat readiness for its armed forces following the steps to defuse tensions between Belgrade and its breakaway Kosovo region, the news agency Tanjug reported on Thursday, citing the office of President Aleksandar Vucic. The president had placed the country’s military and police on standby on December 26.
Kosovo is predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians, but has a Serb majority in its northern areas. Local Serbs erected roadblocks this month following the arrest of former police officer Dejan Pantic, who is accused by the Kosovo authorities of attacking municipal election commission offices. The barricades prompted a standoff with heavily armed police officers, many of them ethnic Albanians, who were deployed in Serbian communities. The prime minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, has demanded the removal of the barricades and urged local Serbs to clear the roads.
On Wednesday, a Kosovo court agreed to change Pantic’s detention to house arrest. Vucic, meanwhile, asked Kosovo Serbs to dismantle the roadblocks, which they began to do on Thursday. The Serbian leader said he had received written guarantees from the EU and US that the Kosovo authorities would not arrest peaceful protesters or deploy security forces to the Serb-majority areas.
Serbia pulled its troops out of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO intervened in support of local Albanian armed separatists, bombing Belgrade and other cities. NATO peacekeepers have since been deployed to the region, which ultimately declared independence and demanded recognition from Belgrade in 2008. With support from Russia and China, Serbia has resisted US and EU pressure to do so.