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NATO To Send More Troops To Kosovo As U.S. Says Pristina Suspended From Military Exercises

By RFE/RL's Balkan Service May 30, 2023

PRISTINA -- NATO has decided to deploy 700 more troops to Kosovo to help stop violent protests in the north of the country and the United States canceled Kosovo's participation in ongoing NATO exercises after clashes broke out between ethnic Albanian authorities and local ethnic Serbs.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on May 30 that in addition to sending 700 more troops, another battalion had been put on standby. Stoltenberg warned that NATO troops "will take all necessary actions to maintain a safe and secure environment for all citizens in Kosovo" after the clashes occurred on May 29.

About 30 members of its forces were injured, KFOR said in a statement.

Speaking in Oslo after talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, Stoltenberg condemned the violence, saying that "such attacks are unacceptable and must stop."

He did not say when the additional troops would be deployed but urged both sides to "take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, refrain from further irresponsible behaviour, and engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue, which is the only way to lasting peace."

The current peacekeeping force in Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, on May 30 sealed off the municipality building in the town of Zvecan, where the violence occurred.

U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said the decision of Kosovar authorities to forcibly install Albanian mayors in Zvecan and two other Kosovar Serb-majority towns, Leposaviq and Zubin Potok, had had a negative impact on Kosovo's reputation and reversed efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

He quoted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who warned that the actions would affect U.S.-Kosovo relations, and that the cancellation of Kosovo's participation in the military exercise was the first consequence.

"Today there was no activity for Defender Europe '23.... For Kosovo, those exercises are over," Hovenier said.

The NATO allies' largest military exercises in the Balkan region are being hosted by Kosovo. They began on May 21 and were set to last until June 2.

"We have asked [Kosovar Prime Minister Albin] Kurti to take steps toward reducing tensions in the north. He has not responded to these requests and we are analyzing what our other actions will be," Hovenier said.

Kurti has defended his government's decision to send mayors to municipal buildings, calling it constitutional.

Hovenier said the United States had two demands for the Kosovo government: not to insist that mayors work from municipal buildings and to withdraw police officers from the municipal buildings in the three towns.

Mayors of the towns were sworn in despite a turnout of under 3.5 percent in the April 23 by-elections amid a Serbian boycott.

Ethnic Serbs earlier on May 30 gathered in front of town halls in Kosovo's north following the violence as EU officials scrambled to bring leaders of Serbia and Kosovo together.

On May 30, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Kosovar authorities and ethnic Serb protesters to "immediately de-escalate" tensions in Kosovo's north, while sources told RFE/RL that the special representative of the European Union for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, was trying to organize a meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kurti.

The sources cautioned that it appeared unlikely either side was ready to meet or hold talks.

Vucic asked the leader of the Quint group -- an informal decision-making group comprising Germany, Britain, France, the United States, and Italy that focuses on major international issues -- to urge Pristina to guarantee the safety of Serbs in Kosovo.

While diplomatic efforts buzzed behind the scenes, Kosovo police said that the situation in Zvecan, Leposaviq, and Zubin Potok was calm as protests continued, although cars belonging to journalists from various media outlets were targeted by several attacks on May 30, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo reported.

Among the vehicles attacked was a car in which an RFE/RL news crew was traveling in Zubin Potok. There were no injuries in the attack, which involved an explosive device and occurred while the vehicle was moving.

Crowds of several hundred people gathered earlier outside municipal headquarters in Zvecan, Leposavic, and Zubin Potok, with alarm sirens sounding and pepper spray and bottles flying, as local and international pressure mounted for Kosovar officials to de-escalate the situation.

KFOR soldiers, wearing full riot gear, have put a metal barrier around the municipal building in Zvecan, and are attempting to maintain cordons to keep the two sides apart in the three municipalities and to prevent the crowds from overrunning the buildings where so-called "parallel" administrations backed by neighboring Serbia operate.

Charles Kupchan, a member of the American Council on Foreign Affairs and professor at Georgetown University, told RFE/RL on May 30 that the government of Kosovo should withdraw from efforts to appoint Albanian mayors in municipalities with a Serbian majority in the north as such moves "are useless and counterproductive in the long run."

"We need to see the government of Serbia and the government of Kosovo sit down together and try to work out the details of the agreement [on the normalization of relations]. Self-governance for the Serbian community seems to be one of the main obstacles. I think what is happening in the north now is a distraction from this important step of the agreement," he said.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/kosovo-violence-serbs- kfor-borrell/32434719.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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