NATO Force on Alert amid Kosovo Tensions As Russia Warns against Conflict


NATO Force on Alert amid Kosovo Tensions As Russia Warns against Conflict

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers were spotted late on Saturday in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, located in the north of Serbia’s breakaway region of Kosovo.

The force, apparently Italian carabinieri units, were spotted guarding a bridge across the Ibar river, footage from the scene circulated by local media shows. The bridge splits the city into the northern Serb-populated part, and the predominantly ethnic-Albanian south.

KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, said in a statement on Sunday evening that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.”

Reportedly placed on high alert, a large KFOR convoy of some 30-40 vehicles was spotted heading towards the frontier between the breakaway region and the rest of Serbia. Kosovo special forces were also spotted moving equipment and personnel, RT reported.

KFOR said it would “take whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times, in line with its UN mandate.”

Ethnic Serbs have reportedly set up barricades on several roads in Kosovska Mitrovica and its vicinity. At least one Serb has been reportedly hospitalized after being beaten by Kosovo police units as he tried to get through the barricades.

The tensions come as the breakaway region's ethnic Albanian government moved forward with its controversial plan to ban Serb license plates and identification documents. Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti claimed the move was about equal justice and law in all the territories his government claims.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Sunday warned the government in Pristina and its backers in Brussels and Washington to stop their provocations and respect the rights of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

Air raid sirens and church bells went off across northern Kosovo on Sunday, after the prime minister, Albin Kurti, announced a police operation to ban Serb license plates and identification documents. Kurti claimed this was about equal justice and law in all the territories his government claims.

Pristina’s decision is unreasonable and discriminatory, and their forced replacement of personal documents is “another step towards the expulsion of the Serb population from Kosovo, as well as the Kosovo Serb institutions that ensure the protection of the rights of Serbian residents from the arbitrary whims of radicals in Pristina,” Zakharova said.

Kurti is “deliberately escalating” in order to launch an armed crackdown, not just against the Serbs in Kosovo but against Belgrade, which the West wants to “neutralize” using the ethnic Albanians as proxies, added Zakharova.

Russia calls on “Pristina and the US and EU behind it to stop provocations and respect the rights of Serbs in Kosovo,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

Earlier in the day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his country had “never been in a more complex and difficult situation” and that the Pristina authorities are trying to exploit the current situation in the world to initiate a conflict while painting itself as a victim.

No Serbian troops have crossed the administrative line into Kosovo yet, the Defense Ministry in Belgrade said, describing such rumors circulating on social media as “disinformation” on behalf of Pristina.

Local Serb residents erected barricades at three checkpoints along the administrative line, where police answering to Kurti were deployed to stop all vehicles with Serbian plates or documents. There were unconfirmed reports of gunfire and injuries among the civilians.

Kosovo was occupied by NATO in 1999, after a 78-day air war against Yugoslavia. The ethnic Albanian government in Pristina declared independence in 2008, with US backing, but has not been recognized by Serbia, Russia, China or the UN.

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