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Serbia-Kosovo tensions escalate, NATO is ready to intervene

Escalating border tensions with Serbia prompted Kosovo police to close two border crossings, while NATO announced its readiness to deploy intervention forces.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo began to escalate after the government of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurt on July 31 required Serbs living in the territory to convert to Kosovo license plates within 60 days, starting from 1/8.

The decision comes as some 50,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo still use license plates and papers issued by the Serbian government, even though Kosovo declared independence 14 years ago.

The Kosovo government also decided that from August 1, all citizens from Serbia to Kosovo must apply for an entry permit at the border. Prime Minister Kurti claimed this was a reciprocal move because Serbia applied the same rule to Kosovo people coming to Serbia.

To protest against the decision, Serbian protesters living in the border area drove trucks and heavy machinery to block the roads leading to the two border gates of Jarinje and Bernjak, causing severe traffic congestion. Kosovo police were forced to close these two border gates.

“We urge citizens to use another border crossing,” police said on Facebook, adding that gunfire was fired “in the direction of the police units but fortunately no one was injured”.

Gendarmerie and security forces block a road during security measures in mitrovica, kosovo on july 31. Photo: afp.

Gendarmerie and security forces at a checkpoint in Mitrovica city, north of Kosovo on July 31. Image: AFP.

According to a police statement, angry protesters beat some Kosovans through blocked roads and several cars were attacked. Air raid sirens have sounded for more than three hours in the city of Mitrovica, north of Kosovo, where mainly Serbs live.

“The atmosphere is already boiling,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, warning that the country “would win” if the Serbs were attacked. Meanwhile, Mr. Kurti accused Mr. Vucic of instigating “unrest”.

A year ago, when Serbs protested for the same reason, the Kosovo government deployed special police forces, while Serbia flew fighter jets closer to the border.

The Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led peacekeeping force, issued a statement saying the security situation in northern Kosovo was tense and “ready to intervene if stability is threatened”. Peacekeepers from Italy, a NATO member state, appeared in the city of Mitrovica on July 31.

Follow RT, KFOR soldiers were put on high alert, with a large military convoy of about 30-40 vehicles heading towards the border between Kosovo and Serbia. The Kosovo police are also deploying equipment and personnel to the area.

“We will take whatever measures are necessary to keep the environment safe and secure in Kosovo, in line with the mandate of the United Nations,” KFOR said.

Location serbia and kosovo. Graphics: maps. Com.

Location Serbia and Kosovo. Graphics:

Russia, one of the countries that does not recognize Kosovo, said that the authorities in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, as well as EU and US supporters should stop the provocation, respecting the rights of Serbs in Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but the majority Serbs in the northern region do not recognize the government in Pristina. They are politically loyal to Serbia, which still provides financial support to this ethnic group.

Most Western countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, but the breakaway region has not been given a seat at the United Nations, due to objections from Russia and China.

After a meeting with the US ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier, the Pristina government pledged to postpone the implementation of the new regulation for 30 days, with the expectation that “all barriers are removed and full freedom of movement is established”.

European Union (EU) foreign policy commissioner Josep Borrell praised Pristina’s decision and said he hoped “all barriers will be removed immediately”.

The NATO peacekeeping mission maintains 3,770 personnel in Kosovo. In 2013, the two countries pledged to join the EU-sponsored dialogue process to find ways to resolve the outstanding issues, but made little progress.

Huyen Le (Follow Reuters, AFP, RT)

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