About thirty armed men have holed up in a monastery and are surrounded by police in Kosovo, where a policeman was killed early Sunday morning, September 24, said the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti. He castigates "organised crime supported by officials in Belgrade", and Serbia the "lies" of Pristina.

"There are at least 30 professionals, soldiers or armed police, who are currently surrounded by our police forces and whom I invite to surrender," Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said at midday. Before showing journalists images of armed men and military vehicles in the courtyard of a monastery presented as the one in Banjska. "These are not civilians but professionals, police or military, who are in and around a monastery," he said.

Inside the monastery would be, according to a statement from the diocese, "a group of pilgrims from Novi Sad (in Serbia, editor's note) with an abbot". For their safety, they locked themselves inside after masked men "stormed the Banjska monastery in an armored vehicle, and forced the door."

A local police official confirmed to AFP that the exchange of fire was continuing: "You can see armed men in uniform. They shoot at us and we retaliate."

The eruption of violence began early Sunday when a police officer was killed while patrolling near the border with Serbia. He was on his way to a road marked as blocked when his unit "was attacked from different positions with heavy weapons, including grenades," according to police. One of his colleagues was injured.

'An attack on Kosovo'

Albin Kurti immediately denounced a "criminal and terrorist" attack, and accused "Belgrade officials" of offering logistical and financial support "to organized crime".

"This is an attack on Kosovo," said President Vjosa Osmani. "These attacks prove, if it were still needed, the destabilizing power of criminal gangs, organized by Serbia, which have been destabilizing Kosovo and the region for a long time," she wrote in a statement.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that he would take the floor in the afternoon to "debunk all the lies and conspiracy theories of Albin Kurti, who only creates chaos and hell" in Kosovo.

The European Union condemned via a message on X (ex-Twitter) of its head of diplomacy, Josep Borrell, "the horrible attack against police officers in Banjska in northern Kosovo. Those responsible must be tried."

The EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the hideous attack against Kosovo Police officers in Banjska/Banjskë in the north of Kosovo.

The responsible perpetrators must face justice. https://t.co/AU79eVg5Ix

— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) September 24, 2023

Incessant tensions

Since a conflict that left 13,000 dead, mostly Kosovar Albanians, relations between the two former enemies have gone from crisis to crisis.

Serbia, supported in particular by its Russian and Chinese allies, refuses to recognise the independence of its former province, whose population of 1.8 million, overwhelmingly of Albanian origin, includes a Serb community of about 120,000 people, who live mainly in northern Kosovo.

This region is the scene of recurrent violence, the latest dating back to the spring, when the Kosovar authorities decided to appoint Albanian mayors in four Serb-majority municipalities.

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This triggered one of the worst episodes in years, with protests, the arrest of three Kosovar policemen by Serbia and a violent riot by Serb protesters that left more than 30 NATO peacekeepers injured.

The international community has repeatedly urged both sides to de-escalate, and stressed that Belgrade and Pristina's accession to the European Union could be jeopardized by these renewed violence.

Tensions Kosovo / Serbia: Brussels receives leaders to find a diplomatic solution

But the latest attempts at talks between Kosovo's prime minister, Albin Kurti, and Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic failed in mid-September after just a few hours.

Serbia wants to obtain some form of association of Serb communities in the north as a prerequisite for any discussion, while the Kosovo side has as a prerequisite the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo's independence.

With AFP

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