Receive free Kosovo updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Kosovo news every morning.
Armed militants stormed a village in Kosovo on Sunday, shattering months of relative calm in the former Serbian region whose disputed status has fuelled conflict between ethnic Serbs and Albanians.
About 30 fighters in unmarked, armoured vehicles descended in the early hours on Banjska, a village near Mitrovica in the north of Kosovo, which has an ethnic Serbian majority, killing one police officer.
The gunmen then barricaded themselves into a Serbian orthodox monastery in a stand-off with authorities. Monks and pilgrims remained inside the buildings while the siege took place, according to church officials. The siege, in which three of the militants were killed, ended on Sunday evening.
The clashes at the monastery will further complicate efforts to mediate between Kosovo and Serbia, raising the spectre of further bloodshed and costly political antagonism between the two EU membership applicants.
The ethnicity of the attackers was not immediately confirmed, although Kosovo’s prime minister Albin Kurti said in the early afternoon that they were doing the bidding of Serbia.
“It is not ordinary Kosova Serb citizens but Serbian state-supported troops perpetrating these terrorist attacks,” Kurti said on the social media platform X.
Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić said in a televised address that while the killing of the Kosovo police officer was “absolutely reprehensible” the responsibility for the tensions lay with Kurti and his refusal to grant Serbs a certain level of autonomy.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia unilaterally in 2008, a move that Serbia and several hundred thousand ethic Serbs in Kosovo have not recognised. A tentative agreement in March almost put an end to decades of conflict but it quickly fell apart over disputed local elections in four northern Kosovo municipalities, the only areas of the country where Serbs form a majority.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly earlier this week, Vučić condemned the west, saying it was complicit in violating the territorial integrity of Serbia. He also warned that Belgrade would never accept the sovereignty and independence of “so-called Kosovo”.
Kurti, meanwhile, has refused to participate in normalisation talks, arranged by the EU, unless the recognition of Kosovo is included. This has prompted a repeated warning from Brussels that his stance could cost both Pristina and Belgrade their EU membership.
Vučić called for the help of the international community to help establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, a long-sought autonomy institution for Serbs in Kosovo, adding that “this is the only way to stop Serbs from being expelled and from conflicts”.
The Serbian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Raška-Prizren, which includes Banjska, said that fighting around the monastery had ended after fighters abandoned the compound. “The situation is . . . stable, though apprehension remains,” the diocese said.
“The armed individuals who breached the gate earlier today have left the premises, and there is now a presence of Kosovo police and Eulex at the entrance and within the monastery’s courtyard.”
Kosovo’s interior minister Dželjalj Svećlja said at the scene that “this territory [is] under control,” adding that three attackers had been killed, and six arrested, two of whom were wounded and in uniform.
“Kosovo police discovered an extraordinary amount of explosives, uniforms, logistics, food, barricade equipment, which was equipment for several hundred other attackers. They were ready to violate the sovereignty of Kosovo,” he said.
The EU and UN condemned the violence. Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, called for the perpetrators to face justice for a “hideous attack”. Borrell said: “All facts about the attack need to be established. More innocent lives are at risk . . . These attacks must stop immediately.”
Eulex, the EU mission that acts as the second security responder in Kosovo, was on the ground and in close contact with the authorities and Nato’s peacekeeping force Kfor, Borrell added. Journalists were barred from entering the village.
Source: Financial Times