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Serbia and Kosovo exchange barbs after policemen arrested in border area

Kosovo Serbs block the street near a Kosovo Police vehicle during a protest in the northern town of Zvecan. 5 June 2023
Kosovo Serbs block the street near a Kosovo Police vehicle during a protest in the northern town of Zvecan. 5 June 2023 Copyright Dejan Simicevic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Dejan Simicevic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Una Hajdari
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Kosovo PM Kurti called it an act of aggression against the country, while Serbia insists it was conducting an anti-terrorist action, after three policemen were arrested on the shared border on Wednesday.


Three police officers are believed to have been kidnapped on Wednesday in the border area between Kosovo and Serbia, as tensions between the two countries remain at an all-time high.

“Three Kosovo policemen were kidnapped today in Leposaviq, in the area of an illegal smuggling route, around 300 metres inside the territory of our country,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said in a statement on Facebook.

According to law enforcement, the Kosovo policemen reported that they noticed armed and masked individuals in the area. When backup arrived to the location, empty Kosovo police cars were found but the on-duty policemen could not be located.

The Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs, on the other hand, claims that the Kosovo policemen were arrested by the Serbian Anti-Terrorist Group of the Special Police Unit.

“With the quick and efficient actions of the Serbian police, the attempt of the so-called Kosovo police to invade the territory of central Serbia to carry out an action which by all parameters is a terrorist act with the aim of additional destabilisation and escalation of the conflict directed against the Republic of Serbia,” said the statement.

Serbia considers Kosovo to be a part of its territory and refuses to recognise the country’s declaration of independence, despite more than 100 countries worldwide including the US, the UK, and most of the EU recognising Kosovo.

Kosovo authorities say that the NATO peacekeepers stationed in the country, known as the Kosovo Forces or KFOR, have been notified about the kidnapping. International authorities have been notified as well, according to Kosovo officials.

Serbian outlets have since published photographs and videos of the arrest, which show armed individuals wearing balaclavas and bullet-proof vests taking handcuffed and blindfolded men in Kosovo police uniforms into unmarked black vehicles.

The Kosovo government is considering imposing an embargo on Serbian imports as an immediate reaction to the incident, which is to be confirmed in a press conference later in the day.

The two countries have been locked in a tense dispute since at least the summer of last year, mainly due to issues involving Kosovo’s sovereignty over its territory.

While Serbia officially does not recognise any Kosovo institution, an EU-facilitated dialogue has been underway for over a decade with the goal of normalising the relationship between the two.

Over the past two weeks, tensions escalated in Kosovo’s Serb-majority northern area – close to where Wednesday's incident occurred – after locals protested against Kosovo Albanian mayors being appointed to govern their towns.

This despite them having boycotted recent local elections.

Clashes culminated on 29 May, when NATO soldiers sent in to intervene were injured by the Kosovo Serb protesters.

EU spokesperson Peter Stano said prior to the incident that measures are being considered among EU member states “if Prime Minister Kurti does not take immediate and adequate steps to de-escalate the situation and reduce tensions.”

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