Serbia orders ‘full combat readiness’ of its security troops as tensions rise with neighbour Kosovo

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By Euronews  with AP
Serbian army self-propelled 155 mm gun-howitzers are seen on position near administrative line with Kosovo, south Serbia.
Serbian army self-propelled 155 mm gun-howitzers are seen on position near administrative line with Kosovo, south Serbia.   -   Copyright  Serbian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP

Belgrade has put its security troops on high alert as tensions escalate on the Serbia-Kosovo border as

Serbia’s Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic said he “ordered the full combat readiness” of police and other security units and that they are placed under the command of the army chief of staff according to “their operational plan.”

Gasic added that he was acting on the orders of the country’s President Aleksandar Vucic so that “all measures be taken to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo.”

Many in the international community have called for calm, as concern grows about the worsening relationship between the neighbours. Shootings, explosions and roadblocks have all been reported over the past couple of weeks.

"I wish to inform you that we are indeed in a difficult situation, but we will give our utmost," Vucic said.

"We will care about preserving peace and stability, and not only that. We care about protecting our people in the north of Kosovo and Metohija."

“After [Kosovo], Albanians have been armed and raised their combat readiness. I will take all measures necessary to protect our nation, to protect Serbia."

NATO and other members of the international community have called for the Balkan foes to avoid sparking more violence as the alliance investigates a shooting over the weekend near its patrolling troops.

The NATO peacekeepers, known as KFOR, said they were “working to establish all the facts” about the incident.

“It is important for all involved to avoid any rhetoric or actions that can cause tensions and escalate the situation,” KFOR added. “We expect all actors to refrain from provocative shows of force and to seek the best solution to ensure the safety and security of all communities.”

The incident took place close to where ethnic Serbs in the northern region of Kosovo have created road barricades over the past two weeks in protest of an arrest of a former Serb police officer. 

Tensions in the area remain high. And ethnic Serbs are demanding the release of the police officer before they remove the barricades.

Kosovo’s government has responded by asking NATO troops to remove the roadblocks.

Adding to the tensions, Serbian Patriarch Porfirije was denied entry into Kosovo at a border crossing on Monday after saying he would like to deliver a peace message for Serbian Orthodox Christmas.

The relationship between the two countries has been on edge since November when many members of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb community walked out of their jobs, including local judges and some 600 police officers, in protest of a policy preventing them from using Serbian-issued license plates.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, an issue that remains a potential flashpoint years after the 1998-99 war that ended with NATO intervention.