Terror gripped a small village in northern Kosovo last Sunday, sparking renewed tensions in a restive part of the country.
At least 30 armed attackers blocked a road in the ethnically Serb dominated village of Banjska in northern Kosovo and then stormed an Orthodox monastery, launching intense gun battles throughout the village and leaving three of the gunmen dead.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said one police officer was killed, and two others were wounded in the siege. After police initially repelled the attack, the assailants, dressed in military gear and wearing face masks, barricaded themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery where monks and pilgrims were allegedly held hostage.
The skirmish started in the early morning hours on Sunday when two trucks without license plates blocked a bridge leading to Banjska. Police arrived and were met with a barrage of heavy weapons fire,
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Overall, Kosovo police confiscated one heavy armored vehicle, 24 SUV vehicles, 29 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 150 explosive dynamites, 142 mortar shells, 75 hand grenades, seven rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and eight anti-tank mines, and more, according to Kosovo’s Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Sveçla and Police Director Gazmend Hoxha.
Prime Minister Kurti placed the blame directly at Serbia, saying organized criminal groups with political, financial and logistical support from official Belgrade attacked the country.
“There is no doubt that Belgrade is fully responsible for systematically inciting and sponsoring violence against Kosovo’s democratic institutions,” Kosovo’s ambassador to the U.S., Ilir Dugolli, told Fox News Digital.
Reports in local Kosovo media alleged that Russia’s Wagner Group may have played a role in the attack. KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission operating in Kosovo since 1999, previously rejected the notion that Wagner units were in the country and news reports making such claims are generally unverified or misinformation. Ambassador Dugolli said that while the allegation cannot be ruled out, it’s clear that the assailants have connections to Belgrade.
“Preliminary intelligence analysis suggests that the persons involved in the deadly clash near the village of Banská in northern Kosovo on Sept. 24, were connected to Serbian special forces and Russian military intelligence,” Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, told Fox News Digital. “The attackers appeared professionally trained and some of them spoke Serbian and Russian. While the presence of Wagner mercenaries could not be confirmed, I don’t rule out the possibility of their participation in these recent events.”
Koffler also warned about Russian interference, “Neither Russia, nor Serbia, who are staunch allies, recognize Kosovo independence. It is their long-term goal to reverse the situation. There are indications that Russia and Serbia are working together to spark another mass Serb-Albanian conflict, in order to create justification for the deployment of Serbian forces to ensure “peace and stability.”
Koffler concluded, “Covert destabilization operations conducted by mercenary groups such as Wagner is a long-standing standard tradecraft used by Putin when he needs the hand of the Russian government hidden. It would be consistent with the Russian doctrine of lateral escalation if Putin helped Vucic ran a destabilization campaign in Kosovo to distract Washington and NATO forces from Ukraine. What Putin fears most is the deployment of NATO forces into the theater in Ukraine.”
Kosovo’s ambassador to the U.S. also claimed that Kosovo police seized documents related to Milan Radojcic, a notorious criminal and vice-leader of the leading Serbian political party in Kosovo who is a close associate of Serbia’s president. The fact that Radojcic’s documents were seized, and several suspects found shelter in Serbia, indicates involvement of Serbian authorities who refuse to hand over those that executed the attack, the ambassador alleged.
Ambassador Dugolli claimed that this fits a pattern of deliberate behavior of Serbia toward Kosovo in recent times.
“It is Belgrade that orchestrated the walk out of Kosovo Serbs from institutions, just as Serbia’s regime refuses to dismantle illegal security structures, intimidates Kosovo Serbs from participating in elections, forces them to man barricades, orders attacks where more than 90 KFOR soldiers as well as many police officers and journalists were seriously injured, it provides impunity to those responsible for attacks, and consistently violates Kosovo’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security,” the ambassador said.
Serbia’s ambassador to the U.S., Marko Djuric, expressed condolences to the victims’ families, but argued that Kurti bears responsibility for the bloodshed in the north of Kosovo.
“Bloodshed in the north of Kosovo is a tragedy that could and should have been prevented. Albin Kurti’s irresponsible policies have set the stage for today’s tragedy,” Ambassador Djuric told Fox News Digital.
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Djuric made five separate accusations against the Kurti government, among others the monoethnic structure of Kosovo forces in the north, failure to respect the existing agreements, terror treatment of the Serb population in the north which has involved many raids in Serb areas, forced installment of mayors in north Kosovo municipalities and public denouncement of EU mediated normalization talks.
Djuric also dismissed reports by some Kosovar media of Wagner involvement by highlighting comments by the commander of KFOR, who said there was no evidence of the mercenary group’s presence in Kosovo.
In a televised address to the nation, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic condemned the violence and categorically rejected Kurti’s claim that the attackers were sponsored by Belgrade, instead saying the Serbs behind the attack were from Kosovo.
The Serbian Orthodox Church also condemned the violence, saying in a statement, “This is a serious incident that can have major consequences, and therefore it is very important that everything is done to preserve order of peace and order.”
While 92% of Kosovo is ethnic Albanian, Serbs in the north are a majority and remain loyal to Belgrade and refuse to accept Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence.
Conflict between Serbia and Kosovo following the 1999 war is unresolved and is a roadblock to their further European integration. Kosovo was a former province of Serbia and was once integrated within the nation of Yugoslavia. NATO led a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, which comprised Serbia and Montenegro, to defend Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians against violence from Belgrade. Nearly a decade later, in 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, but Serbia refuses to recognize their independence.
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Any hopes of continuing the path of peace and reconciliation, which seemed promising months ago, now seem further out of reach.
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“The normalization talks have been in a deadlock since before the latest round of escalation,” Helena Ivanov, associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital.
“Notably, Kurti rejected the latest EU proposal insisting that for any step forward Serbia must first recognize Kosovo as independent. This demand by Kurti is of course contrary to previously signed agreements, which stipulate that Kosovo must create the Association of Serb Municipalities. The latest round of escalation most certainly will not help these talks and is likely to lead to more disagreements and difficulties,” Ivanov added.
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