The return of troops from Belgrade to the former Serbian province could dramatically increase tensions in the Balkan region.
Serbian officials say a UN resolution that formally ended the country’s bloody crackdown on Kosovo’s majority Albanian separatists in 1999 allowed some 1,000 Serb troops to return to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to force it to withdraw its forces from Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, and end the war.
NATO-led peacekeepers, who have been working in Kosovo since the war, must give the green light for Serbian troops to go there. Security of northern areas populated by Kosovo Serbs for Serbian forces, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Ana Brnabic accused the NATO mission in Kosovo (Kfor), which consists of about 4,000 units, of not protecting Serbs from alleged harassment by Kosovo forces, arguing that 1,000 Serb troops should be returned to Kosovo.
The head of the Serbian government accused Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurdi of bringing the region to the “brink” of another war.
We are close to demanding the withdrawal of our forces to Kosovo under Resolution 1244 because KFOR is not doing its job. “Serbs don’t feel safe and their lives are physically at risk, including children in kindergarten”, Brnabic emphasized.
Kosovo’s president, Vijosa Osmani, responded to these reports by underlining that “no Serbian soldier or police will ever set foot on Kosovo soil again.”
Despite diplomatic efforts by EU and US officials, tensions remain high in Kosovo.
Serbia, backed by allies Russia and China, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.
The request to send Serbian troops comes a day after unidentified gunmen inflicted minor injuries on a police officer in Kosovo. Kosovar police presence has recently increased in Serb-held areas of northern Kosovo, where early elections are due on December 28.
Earlier this week, some polling centers were damaged and gunshots were heard in those areas, raising fears of rising tensions.
The Kosovo government’s decision to ban Serbian-issued vehicle registrations prompted Serb representatives, prosecutors and police in Kosovo’s northern municipalities to resign from their local government posts in early November.
In late November, with the mediation of the European Union and direct US assistance, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement whereby Serbia would stop issuing license plates now used in Kosovo and the Kosovo government would stop further measures to deny re-registration of vehicles.
The European Union has warned Serbia and Kosovo that they must resolve their conflicts and normalize relations to qualify for EU membership.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized at the time that the alliance-led mission in Kosovo was “vigilant”.