Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has pointed the finger at neighboring Serbia for a deadly attack on police officers. The move threatens to further strain relations between the two historic adversaries and comes at a critical time in their European Union-facilitated negotiations aimed at normalizing relations.
The violent episode took place on a calm Sunday morning in the village of Banjska, nestled in the municipality of Leposavic, about 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of Pristina, Kosovo’s capital. Prime Minister Kurti recounted the harrowing events, describing a group of “masked professionals armed with heavy weapons” opening fire on a police patrol early at 3 a.m. (1 a.m. GMT).
According to information from the Kosovo police, the attackers deployed two unmarked trucks to block a bridge at the entrance to the village. In response to this provocation, three police units were dispatched to lift the blockade, but they quickly found themselves under a hail of fire from multiple directions, including the use of hand grenades and explosives.
Police managed to repel the attack and transported two injured police officers to a hospital in southern Mitrovica. One of the officers could not be saved upon arrival, while the other remained in stable condition.
Adding to the turmoil, the Kosovo Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which presides over several monasteries in this former Serbian province, reported a worrying incident. They claimed that a group of masked individuals, in an armored vehicle, had forced the front door of the Banjska monastery, located in the same village.
Historical tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have deep roots that span decades. Their prolonged conflict in 1998-99 resulted in a devastating loss of more than 10,000 lives, the majority of whom were Kosovo Albanians. Despite Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, Belgrade has categorically refused to recognize its sovereignty.
After a meeting of the Kosovo Security Council on Sunday, Prime Minister Kurti somberly described the day as “sad” for Kosovo, while paying tribute to fallen police officer Afrim Bunjaku. During the meeting, Kurti revealed a series of photographs showing unmarked four-wheel drive vehicles and an armored personnel carrier, neither of which were affiliated with the Kosovo Police. He claimed that the ongoing exchange of fire was instigated by a group of at least 30 highly trained, masked and heavily armed individuals.
Prime Minister Kurti did not mince his words, saying: “It is clear that these uniformed individuals, numbering at least 30, constitute a well-organized professional unit who came with the intention of engaging in conflict in Kosovo. He urged those responsible for the attack to surrender to Kosovar authorities.
The majority of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority resides in four municipalities around Mitrovica in the north.
Local information, relayed by Serbian media in Kosovo, paints a grim picture of Banjska residents startled awake by the sound of gunshots and explosions during the night, likening this ordeal to a “mini-war”.
Serbian media reported blockages on local roads and at border crossings with Serbia, while Prime Minister Kurti took to Facebook, saying that “organized crime, supported politically, financially and logistically by Belgrade, is attacking our state.”
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani, who is currently attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, strongly condemned the attack. She said: “Such attacks are further evidence of the destabilizing influence of Serbia-linked criminal groups, which have long sowed discord in Kosovo and the region as a whole. »
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the attack “heinous” and called for a full investigation. Mr Borrell underlined the urgent need to put an immediate end to such attacks, highlighting the presence of the EU rule of law mission, EULEX, as a secondary security responder, cooperating closely with local authorities and KFOR.
Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s envoy for the negotiations, joined in condemning the “horrible attack” and reiterated the urgency of a rapid return to dialogue to defuse escalating tensions between the two nations.