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28 May, 2023 17:20

NATO issues warning to Kosovo

The message to “de-escalate” came two days after Serbian groups reportedly refused to accept newly-elected mayors
NATO issues warning to Kosovo

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has told the breakaway province of Kosovo to avoid any deliberate provocations amid increasing tensions with Serbia. He issued the warning via tweet on Sunday.

“Pristina must de-escalate & not take unilateral, destabilising steps,” Stoltenberg wrote, describing an “EU-led dialogue” between Pristina and Belgrade as “the only way to peace & normalisation." 

NATO Kosovo Force, the bloc’s peacekeeping mission stationed in the territory since 1999, would “continue to ensure a safe & secure environment,” he said. 

Stoltenberg's statement followed a weekend of violent clashes between police and ethnic Serbian protesters in four municipalities in northern Kosovo. Three of the four towns’ newly-elected mayors were escorted by police into their offices on Friday, outraging the demonstrators, who reportedly pelted the officers with rocks. Police then deployed tear gas and water cannons against the crowds. 

The situation reportedly remained tense on Sunday, with police maintaining a visible presence with armored cars outside the mayors’ offices. 

Serbs turned out in force to protest the installation of the four newly-elected officials after boycotting April’s elections, which they viewed as an illegitimate power-grab aimed at reducing their influence in the region. With less than 4% of area residents casting their ballots, the winners, all ethnic Albanians, have been shunned by locals, who say they will not work with them. 

The Serbian armed forces have been on high alert since Friday’s violence, with the country’s defense minister Milos Vucevic ordering the “urgent movement” of troops to the border with Kosovo, saying the security of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo was under threat due to the actions of the self-declared republic’s ethnic Albanian prime minister, Albin Kurti. 

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 with the support of the US and many of its NATO allies. While the EU has kept up pressure on Belgrade to recognize the breakaway region as an independent state and normalize relations with it, Kosovo is not recognized by most of the world’s nations, including Russia and China.