Twenty-four hours later, the hunt continues in Kosovo. Dozens of men were still wanted on Monday 25 September, after the death of a Kosovar policeman in the north of the country. Six people crossed into Serbia, according to Pristina.

"Our search continues, we have a lot of officers on the ground," Kosovo's interior minister, Xhelal Sveçla, told reporters, adding that an arsenal of "heavy weapons, explosives, food..." had been discovered in several locations.

It is now a question of finding the members of the heavily armed commando who spent several hours on Sunday holed up in the monastery of Banjska, and who are suspected of having killed the policeman near the Serbian border. Three of them were killed on Sunday, and the body of a fourth was found on Monday, according to Kosovo authorities.

Six others are "being treated at the hospital in Novi Pazar", according to Xhelal Sveçla. "We call on Serbia to immediately transfer them to the Kosovo authorities," he added.

By midday on Monday, the area around the Banjska monastery was closed, an AFP journalist said, and police vehicles and the NATO peacekeeping force (KFOR) were visible. In Pristina, flags are at half-mast, Monday having been declared a national mourning in tribute to the policeman killed. In the streets, some residents interviewed by AFP blamed Serbia and Russia, such as Ramiz Zakuti, for whom Belgrade and Moscow "seek to launch the Third World War".

Kosovo has, on Sunday morning, accused Serbia of being behind the attack – which Belgrade hastened to deny, accusing in turn the Kosovar Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, of having pushed the Kosovo Serbs to the limit with his "provocations".

This renewed tension, among the most violent since Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008, could be yet another obstacle on the road to the "normalisation" of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

"Work immediately to de-escalate"

The European Union condemned a "terrorist" attack, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on "the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any action or rhetoric that could escalate tensions and to work immediately towards de-escalation in coordination with the international community."

On Sunday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic insisted that Serbia "will never recognise Kosovo's independence". On Monday morning, his first Instagram post was a photo of him with the Russian ambassador to Serbia, captioned as follows: "I am grateful (to Ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko) for hearing prayers and requests from the Serbian side. I informed him that a brutal ethnic cleansing is taking place in Kosovo organized by Albin Kurti, with the support of part of the international community."

From Moscow, the Kremlin spoke of a situation "really, really tense and potentially dangerous". "It is no secret that provocations targeting Serbs are organised very often," the presidential spokesman added.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO helped push Serb forces out of the former province in a bloody war that left an estimated 13,000 people dead, most of them ethnic Albanians.

Unsuccessful discussion attempts

Serbia, supported in particular by its Russian and Chinese allies, has since refused to recognise the independence of Kosovo, where a Serb community of about 120,000 people lives. Settled mainly in the north, some of its members refuse any allegiance to Pristina.

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The region has since been 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. This sparked major protests, the arrest of three Kosovar policemen by Serbia and a riot by Serb demonstrators that left more than 30 Kfor soldiers injured.

The international community urges both parties to de-escalate. But the last attempts at talks between Albin Kurti and Aleksandar Vucic failed in mid-September after just a few hours.

Serbia wishes, prior to any discussion, to obtain some form of association of the Serb communities, while the Kosovar side has as a prerequisite the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo's independence.

With AFP

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