Vucic blames Kurti for police ambush, murder, monastery standoff in north
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic has blamed Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti for a serious chain of events on Sunday that left four dead, including one police officer, many behind bars, and a significant seizure of weapons and ammunition in the Serb-majority north of Kosovo.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a Kosovo police patrol was ambushed by some 30 heavily armed gunmen, accompanied by armoured vehicles, leaving one officer dead and another wounded. The men fled to a local monastery, where they barricaded themselves in and traded gunfire with police for hours.
Kosovo authorities announced the death of three individuals and the arrest of five others following the shootout in the village of Bajske.
“Official information so far confirms the killing of three attackers, the arrest of one attacker, the arrest of four suspects who were found in possession of radio communications, as well as the identification of a significant amount of weapons, ammunition and various equipment,” a Kosovo police announcement said.
The situation ended on Sunday evening, with Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla stating, “We put this territory under control. It was done after several consecutive battles.”
During the police operation, a residential location was searched and suspected military vehicles, uniforms, weapons, and ammunition were found. During police checkpoints, four suspects were arrested and found possessing radios and are suspected of being related to criminal activities.
Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, said in a press conference that Sunday is difficult for Kosovo.
“His (police officer’s) murder should be turned into an even greater engagement in the fight against gangs, illegal structures, crime and terrorism, which threaten the security of citizens and the constitutional order.”
He also said that those behind the attacks were carried out by “Serbian state-backed troops” who carried out “terrorist acts”.
But Vucic denied any Serbian involvement during an address to the nation on Sunday evening.
“Those were not the uniforms of the Serbian army or police. You can buy uniforms anywhere on the market these days, also, the weapons they had are weapons you can find anywhere.”
He said Kurti “is the only culprit”.
“He wants to drag us into a war with NATO. He has no other wish, and that is the only thing he has been doing all this time.”
He also said the Serbs who put up barricades and then clashed with the police did not come from Serbia.
“Those are Serbs from Kosovo who rebelled because they could no longer put up with Kurti’s terror.”
The Serbian president said they monitored the action of the Albanian police and have “evidence” and “will announce our final decision in the next few days”.
The Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo also reacted to the violence, calling for a restoration to order.
“The Diocese vehemently denounces the blatant violence being enacted within the religious facility of the Serbian Orthodox Church and urges all parties to immediately cease hostilities,” a statement on X reads.
At the beginning of July, British MP Alicia Kearns said that in the north of Kosovo, “weapons are being smuggled in ambulances and then stored in church facilities.”
At the time, NATO’s military mission in Kosovo, KFOR, said that no evidence had been found for the British MP’s claims, while the Kosovo authorities had launched investigations.
Vucic responded to the allegations by calling her a lobbyist and adding: “We are conducting an investigation against you to see who is financing you.”
The German Foreign Ministry also reacted, stating they would send their envoy.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the terrible attack on the Kosovo Police. Our thoughts are with the family of the slain officer and the seriously injured. Illegal armed groups must stop endangering lives. The perpetrators must be held responsible.” Manuel Sarrazin travels to Kosovo today,” wrote the German Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, the EU Commission issued a statement condemning the attack, calling for all facts to be established and the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the hideous attack by an armed gang against Kosovo Police officers in Banjska/Banjskë in the north of Kosovo, which left one police officer dead and two injured. All facts about the attack need to be established. The responsible perpetrators must face justice,” the EU’s Chief Diplomat, Josep Borrell, said.
“More innocent lives are at risk in ongoing hostilities in the surroundings of Banjska Monastery. These attacks must stop immediately. EULEX, as second security responder, is on the ground and in close contact with the authorities and KFOR,” the statement read.
Kurti has repeatedly called for an end to the activities of criminal and heavily armed gangs in the north, and Pristina has carried out multiple police operations in recent months to bust drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and cryptocurrency mining operations.
“The way forward for de-escalation of the situation in the north means the immediate stop of violence by criminal gangs against the police, NATO, journalists and mayors. In accordance with the security situation, with the removal of these gangs and their arrest, the police presence could be reduced proportionately,” he said during the summer about the situation and ongoing tensions.
(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com, Bojana Zimonjic | Euractiv.sr)