Kosovo police said Sunday they had killed three armed attackers and arrested another amid an ongoing shootout in the northern Kosovo village of Banjska.
The clash between police and 30 armed men began just hours after an ambush left one officer dead and another injured. Some shootings took place near a monastery in the village, police said.
Police earlier said they killed an attacker “in self-defense” and arrested four suspects who were found in illegal possession of radios and suspected of being linked to criminal groups.
“According to official information on the ground, during the exchange of fire, it is confirmed that two other attackers, masked, in uniform and heavily armed, were killed and that the arrest of another armed attacker in uniform is also confirmed,” Kosovo Police said. a statement on Facebook.
In its latest statement, Kosovo Police said the security situation in the Banjska village area “continues to remain tense” as “attacks with firearms against police units continue with the same intensity” .
Police added that they found “logistical equipment, suspected military vehicles, military uniforms as well as weapons and ammunition of different calibers” in a residential location used by the attackers.
“The Kosovo Police continues to call on criminal groups to surrender to the judicial authorities and at the same time invites citizens to cooperate with law enforcement, in the interest of calming the situation and ensuring security general,” the statement said.
This incident constitutes a serious escalation in a region already prone to unrest. Kosovo is predominantly Albanian, but like other northern villages, Banjska is predominantly Serbian.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia considers Kosovo a breakaway state. Kosovo Serbs consider themselves part of Serbia and consider Belgrade their capital rather than Pristina.
“We see people armed, in uniform, with heavy weapons, they shoot at us, we shoot,” said Veton Eljsani, deputy commander of the Kosovo Police for the Northern region, according to CNN affiliate N1.
During the night from Saturday to Sunday, a border police unit noticed two heavy goods vehicles without license plates blocking the entrance to a bridge in Banjska, according to N1. Police units were deployed on site.
When police arrived at the scene, they encountered resistance, shots were fired and, during the exchange of fire, one police officer was killed and another injured, according to N1. Kosovo police said they were fired at with “an arsenal of firearms,” including hand grenades and stun guns.
In a Facebook post Sunday morning, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti called the shooting in the village of Banjska a “terrorist attack” carried out by what he called “Serb criminal gangs.”
CNN has contacted the Serbian Foreign Ministry for comment on the incident.
In a statement on Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned the attack and called for a de-escalation of the situation.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the heinous attack by an armed gang against Kosovo police officers in Banjska/Banjskë, northern Kosovo, which left one police officer dead,” he said. declared in a press release. “The perpetrators responsible must be brought to justice. »
“More innocent lives are at risk in the ongoing hostilities around Banjska Monastery. These attacks must stop immediately,” he added.
The EU mission in Kosovo, EULEX, “is on the ground and in close contact with the authorities and KFOR,” the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Borrell said.
“The EU and its member states repeatedly urge all actors to work to de-escalate the situation in northern Kosovo,” he said.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have escalated in recent months with violent protests erupting in May following contentious local elections. Dozens of NATO peacekeepers were injured during the clashes at the time.
Kosovo’s Serbs are increasingly demanding greater autonomy from the ethnic Albanian majority.