Serbia says KFOR refused to return its forces to Kosovo

BELGRADE – NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo have rejected a demand by Serbia that its security forces be allowed to return to the breakaway province amid ongoing tensions, the Serbian president said on Sunday.

KFOR peacekeeping forces, stationed in Kosovo in 1999 after NATO alliance bombing drove the Serbian army and police out of the territory, said in their response that there was no need for Serbian forces to return, Aleksandar Vucic said .

Serbia made its request in mid-December as tensions rose in Kosovo over the arrest of an ethnic Serb former police officer, prompting roadblocks in the country’s north, where mostly ethnic Serbs live.

These tensions were later defused by efforts by the European Union and the US to advance an EU-mediated dialogue between the former Balkan wartime opponents. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and the dispute remains a potential flashpoint.

In the latest incident, an off-duty Kosovo security officer shot dead and wounded two ethnic Serbs, including an 11-year-old boy, in central Kosovo last week. The man was arrested after the incident near the town of Strpce, Kosovar police said.

The conflict in Kosovo erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians launched a rebellion against Serbian rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown that sparked NATO intervention. About 13,000 people died in the conflict, mostly ethnic Albanians.

Serbia insists hundreds of its security forces have the right to relocate under a post-war United Nations resolution. Belgrade has said returning its troops to Kosovo would help ease tensions, a claim vehemently denied by Kosovar and Western officials.

Vucic said KFOR’s response to Serbia’s demand was expected due to Western support for Kosovo’s independence. Serbia has relied on Russia and China to retain its claim to its former province, which many Serbs see as the nation’s heartland.

The West “was not concerned about the wounding of Serbian boys,” Vucic lamented on pro-government Pink television. “I didn’t expect any other answer from KFOR.”

Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told that they must normalize relations if they are to progress towards EU membership. A senior US delegation will visit the region next week to help move stalled EU-brokered talks forward.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Serbia says KFOR refused to return its forces to Kosovo

Sarah Y. Kim

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