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US Calls on Serbia to Withdraw Troops Amid Rising Tensions in Kosovo

The United States is calling on Serbia to de-escalate the situation by withdrawing what it describes as a significant military buildup along its border with Kosovo. This comes in the wake of a recent attack involving around 30 armed individuals who engaged in a firefight with Kosovo police in northern Kosovo, an area predominantly inhabited by Serbs. Tensions between Kosovo’s minority ethnic Serb population and the majority Albanian community have been escalating in recent months.

In response to the current situation, the United Kingdom has announced its intention to send troops to bolster the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. NATO has expressed its readiness to increase its forces following a standoff at a monastery in northern Kosovo, which resulted in the death of a Kosovo police officer and three of the attackers. In the aftermath of the incident, the Kosovo government displayed a substantial cache of weapons and equipment, accusing the Serbian government of supporting the attackers.

Milan Radoicic, the vice president of Serb List, the primary Kosovo-Serb political party, resigned on Friday, acknowledging his role in organizing the armed group responsible for the attack. However, he denied receiving assistance from Belgrade.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby expressed concern over the “large military deployment” of Serbian tanks and artillery, characterizing it as a destabilizing development. The purpose of this troop buildup, which occurred within the past week, remains unclear. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, urging immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also engaged with Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti.

While President Vucic has not directly denied the recent troop buildup, he rejected claims of his country’s forces being on high combat readiness. He stated that Serbia currently has fewer troops than it did two or three months ago.

The recent clash at a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Banjska village, resulting in casualties, marks one of the most serious escalations in Kosovo in recent years. The conflict between Kosovo and Serbia stems from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with Kosovo seeking independence, leading to a brutal crackdown by Serbian forces. Although Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbia, along with China and Russia, does not recognize it.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has authorized additional forces to address the current situation, marking the second reinforcement of NATO’s presence in Kosovo in three months. Currently, there are approximately 4,500 NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFor) personnel stationed in the region. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has made a battalion of 500 to 650 troops available to KFor, with these troops recently arriving in the area for pre-planned exercises.