Serbia to ask NATO to deploy Serb military, police in Kosovo – Vucic

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BELGRADE (Reuters) -Serbia will ask NATO peacekeepers to let it deploy Serbian military and police in Kosovo, although it believes there is no chance of the request being approved, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Saturday.

Vucic told a news conference in Belgrade that he would make the request in a letter to the commander of the NATO force KFOR.

Vucic’s remarks came after a spate of incidents between Kosovo authorities and local Serbs who constitute a majority in northern areas of Albanian-majority Kosovo.

“We will request from the KFOR commander to ensure the deployment of army and police personnel of the Republic of Serbia to the territory of Kosovo and Metohija,” Vucic told a news conference in Belgrade. He said he had “no illusions” that the request would be accepted.

The government in Belgrade would formally adopt the document on Monday or Tuesday, he said.

It would be the first time Belgrade requested to deploy troops in Kosovo, under provisions of a U.N. Security Council resolution which ended a 1998-1999 war, in which NATO interceded against Serbia to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo.

The resolution says Serbia can deploy up to 1,000 military, police and customs officials to Orthodox Christian religious sites, areas with Serb majorities and border crossings, if such a deployment is approved by KFOR’s commander.

At the time it was agreed, Kosovo was internationally recognised as part of Serbia. With the West’s backing, Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a declaration not recognised by Serbia.

Kosovo police exchange fire with local Serbs blocking roads

MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) -Kosovo Serbs and country’s police exchanged gunfire on Saturday after a flareup of tensions in the volatile northern part of the country.

Earlier in the day Serbs from Kosovo’s north blocked main roads in the region to protest against the arrest of a former member of the Kosovo police who quit his post last month along with other ethnic Serbs.

With a crisis mounting in the majority Serb north, Kosovo’s president Vjosa Osmani on Saturday announced that local elections in that area would be delayed until April 23. Elections had been scheduled for Dec. 18 but Serbs said they would boycott the polls.

Police said the blockade halted traffic and they were forced to close two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. Later, they said they came under fire in several locations close to a lake bordering Serbia. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“Police units, in self-defense, were forced to respond with firearms to the criminals who were repulsed and run in unknown directions,” police said in a statement.

Gunshots were also heard in other locations in the northern part of the country.

Police in Pristina said former policeman Dejan Pantic was arrested for allegedly attacking election commission offices, police officers and election officials on Tuesday.

Serb mayors in northern Kosovo municipalities, along with local judges and some 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest over a government decision to replace Belgrade-issued car license plates with ones issued by Pristina.

“Serbia has instructed its illegal structures to set up barricades in the north Kosovo. Belgrade bears the full responsibility for any escalation,” Blerim Vela, Kosovo’s presidential chief of staff said on Twitter.

Earlier, Kosovo police arrested another Serb on suspicion of taking part in an armed attack on a police patrol. On Thursday, a policeman was injured in an attack on a patrol after police ranks in the area had been reinforced by non-Serb officers following the mass resignations.

In an urgent press conference, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said he would ask NATO’s KFOR peacekeeper mission to let Serbia deploy troops and police in Kosovo, although he acknowledged there was no chance of permission being granted.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, following a 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Ognen Teofilovski in North Mitrovica and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade Editing by Ros Russell and Peter Graff


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