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Armed men entrenched themselves in the monastery of Banjska

Photo: Government of Kosovo / AFP

Deadly clashes between police and armed assailants have fueled tensions in northern Kosovo.

A police officer was killed in an attack on a patrol on Sunday. About 30 armed men, including the alleged perpetrators, later barricaded themselves in a monastery before the Interior Ministry in Pristina announced on Sunday evening that the site was back under the control of the authorities after "fighting". Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Serbia of supporting "terrorist attacks" in the north of Kosovo, which is predominantly inhabited by Serbs. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić rejected this.

The riots had begun early Sunday morning, when an attack on a patrol had killed a police officer and injured another, according to Kosovo authorities. Later, the police informed about "the death of three attackers and the arrest of four (civilian) suspects".

According to the Kosovar authorities, the situation around the Banjska Monastery, located north of the city of Mitrovica, worsened during the day.

According to the responsible diocese, a group of pilgrims from the Serbian city of Novi Sad and an abbot were staying in the monastery. For their safety, people locked themselves in the building after "masked men in an armored vehicle stormed the Banjska Monastery" and forcibly broke open the gate.

After the deadly attack on the patrol, Prime Minister Kurti spoke of a "terrorist attack". He accused "those responsible in Belgrade" of providing logistical and financial support "for organized crime."

Serbia rejects responsibility

Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani described the incidents as an "attack" on her country. They proved "that the criminal gangs organized by Serbia have a destabilizing effect." Osmani called on Kosovo's allies to support the country "in its efforts to achieve peace and order and maintain sovereignty over the entire republic."

Serbian President Vučić on Sunday evening denied any responsibility of his country for the incidents, saying that the attackers were Kosovo Serbs. "The only culprit for everything that is happening in the north of Kosovo (...) is Albin Kurti," he said. Kurti is "constantly provocative and I am sorry that some Serbs have given in to his provocations."

Kosovo, with its majority Albanian population, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but is still considered a Serbian province by Belgrade. Kosovo's approximately 1.8 million inhabitants include about 120,000 Serbs, who live mainly in the north of the country.

Tensions in northern Kosovo have been rising again for months. One trigger was that the government in Pristina decided in May to appoint Albanian mayors in four municipalities with a Serb majority. In the ensuing riots, more than 30 soldiers of the NATO peacekeeping force KFOR were injured.