'Protect Serbs in Kosovo or we'll do it ourselves,' Vucic warns NATO

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By Euronews
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses the nation at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses the nation at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Serbia president Aleksandar Vucic has warned NATO that it must protect the Serbian minority in Kosovo or Belgrade will move to do it itself.

Tensions have been rising between the Balkan neighbours since Pristina declared last month that Serbian identity documents and vehicle licence plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo.

Vucic claims it's aimed at pushing Serbs out of Kosovo - something he says he won't allow.

"There will be no refugee columns, and we will save our people from persecution and pogroms if NATO doesn't want to do it," he said. 

There are widespread fears in the West that Russia could encourage its ally Serbia into an armed intervention in northern Kosovo that would further destabilise the Balkans and shift at least some world and NATO attention from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Last month, Kosovo’s government declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle licence plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo.

But, under apparent pressure from the West, Kurti postponed implementation of the measure for a month to 1 September, when more trouble is expected if a compromise is not reached by then.

Serbia has been implementing the same measures for Kosovo citizens crossing into Serbia for the past decade.

Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla on Sunday visited Kosovo police units stationed near the northern border with Serbia, saying that he hopes there will be no trouble when the new measures begin on 1 September.

“Our common interest here is that this land is ours and we will not give it up at any price,” he said.

EU talks

It comes after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hosted talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo in an effort to reduce tensions.

But after they failed to produce a breakthrough, NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have been deployed on main roads in its north, saying they are ready to protect the freedom of movement for all sides.

A NATO-led intervention in 1999 ended the war between Serbian forces and separatists in Kosovo and stopped Belgrade’s bloody crackdown against Kosovo's majority Albanians. 

In 2008, Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence but Belgrade -- as well as its ally, Russia -- refuses to recognise it.