Reporting about the recent armed clash between a group of Serbs from Kosovo and the Kosovo police, in which one Kosovo police officer and three Serbs were killed, the British daily The Guardian writes that “Kosovo has accused Serbia of being behind a paramilitary group which ambushed a police patrol and clashed with Kosovan forces on Sunday.”
The daily goes on to say that the Pristina authorities, in order to prove their claim, displayed an array of modern weaponry they said the group was using, including two Serbian-made armoured cars and a grenade launcher, alongside a document allegedly showing the grenade launcher, made by the Zastava arms company, had been supplied by the Serbian army.
The Kosovan government also claimed that the group’s leader was a prominent Kosovo Serb politician loyal to the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, and that one of three paramilitary fighters killed on Sunday was a former bodyguard of Aleksandar Vulin, the Serbian intelligence chief sanctioned by the US in July for corruption – The Guardian goes on to say.
“This group came from Serbia, they are trained in Serbia, financed by them and also equipped by the army of Serbia and its police,” Xhelal Sveçla, the Kosovan interior minister, told the Guardian.
The Serbian government has been vehemently denying its involvement in the conflict but held an official day of mourning for the three dead.
“Vučić has sought to justify their actions by falsely claiming, in a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Belgrade, that the Kosovan government was carrying out ethnic cleansing. Kosovo alleges that the group was led by Milan Radoičić, the deputy leader of the Belgrade-backed Serb List party, which dominates politics in the four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo,” The Guardian reports and again quotes Sveçla who said that his country’s intelligence service believed Radoičić, who has been sanctioned by the US and UK, had been wounded and was recovering in the main military hospital in Belgrade.
The claim could not be independently verified.
Radoičić has not made a public statement but Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Dačić, claimed a video purporting to show Radoičić among the paramilitaries was a “fraud”.
The clash happened at a time when EU-brokered talks aimed at normalising relations between the two countries are stalled, with Vučić vowing he will never recognise Kosovo, and the Kosovan government consequently refusing to establish a semi-autonomous association of Serb municipalities.”
The US has been backing the talks and has until now sided with Europe for putting most of the blame for their failure on the Kosovan prime minister, Albin Kurti. But the Biden administration is investigating Belgrade’s involvement in the paramilitary unit, and trying to discover its mission. If Vučić is found to have been involved, it could change the approach taken by the US and the EU to negotiations, which have been criticised by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic as being biased towards Belgrade. It could also lead to sanctions on Serbia – The Guardian claims.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, condemned the attack on the Kosovan police and said: “The perpetrators of this crime must be held accountable via a transparent investigative process.”
“We call on the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions or rhetoric which could further inflame tensions,” Blinken added and urged Belgrade and Pristina to “return to the EU-facilitated dialogue”.
Edward P. Joseph, a former deputy head of mission in Kosovo of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said that if Belgrade was behind the paramilitary group, the US would have to rethink its approach to the region.
“The point is that the calls for dialogue are empty now that the entire US strategy – to cultivate Vučić’s Serbia as a ‘partner’ – has blown up,” said Joseph, now a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
(Danas, The Guardian, 28.09.2023)
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