Serbia Denies Reports of Military Build-Up on Kosovo Border
Serbia’s Response to US and EU Concerns
Serbia on Sunday rejected US and other reports of a military build-up along its border with Kosovo following a gun battle there last week that left four people dead.
Serbia’s president complained of a “campaign of lies” after the United States and European Union expressed concern earlier this week over what they said was an increased military presence on Serbia’s border with its former province. They called on Belgrade to reduce its troop presence there.
Kosovo’s Demands and Accusations
The Kosovo government said Saturday it was monitoring Serbian military movements from “three different directions.” They called on Serbia to immediately withdraw its troops and demilitarize the border zone.
“A campaign of lies has been launched against our Serbia…” President Aleksandar Vucic responded in a video post on Instagram. “They lied a lot about the presence of our armed forces… What really worries them is that Serbia has what they call modern weapons.”
Reduced Serbian Military Presence
Associated Press reporters traveling through the border region Sunday saw several Serbian army vehicles leaving for central Serbia, a sign the military may be reducing its presence in the region following calls from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others.
Tensions and Clashes in Kosovo
Tensions have risen sharply since violence in northern Kosovo last Sunday involving heavily armed Serb militants and Kosovo police. The clash was among the worst since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and prompted NATO to announce it would strengthen peacekeeping forces stationed in the country.
Serbia has denied Kosovo’s accusations that it trained a group of about 30 men who opened fire on police, killing one, and then barricaded themselves in an Orthodox Christian monastery in northern Kosovo. In the ensuing hours-long firefight, three militants were killed.
Kosovo also said it was investigating possible Russian involvement in the violence. Serbia is Russia’s main ally in Europe, and there are fears in the West that Moscow may try to stir up trouble in the Balkans to divert attention from the war in Ukraine.
US Concerns and Serbian Defense
John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Friday that U.S. officials were monitoring a major Serb troop deployment along the Kosovo border, describing it as “an unprecedented deployment of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, and motorized infantry units.”
Vučić has raised the level of combat readiness of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo several times in recent months. Serbia is also strengthening its troops with weapons and other equipment, mainly purchased from Russia and China.
“We will continue to invest in the defense of our country, but Serbia wants peace,” the president said on Sunday. “Everything they said, they made it up and lied, and they knew they made it up and lied.”
Unrest in Northern Kosovo
The shooting over the weekend near the village of Banska follows months of tension in northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs make up the majority of the population and are demanding self-rule. Dozens of soldiers from the NATO-led peacekeeping force known as KFOR were wounded in May in clashes with ethnic Serbs protesting the presence of Kosovo police in the area.
Failed Negotiations for Serbia-Kosovo Relations
Fearing wider instability as the war rages in Ukraine, Washington and Brussels tried to negotiate a normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, but both sides failed to implement a preliminary agreement that was recently reached as part of an EU-brokered dialogue.