President Aleksandar Vucic has said Serbia will on Friday ask NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo to allow the return of Serbian military and police to its former breakaway province.
The announcement came amid mounting tensions in Kosovo’s volatile north where hundreds of ethnic Serbs, outraged over the arrest of an ex-police officer, set up roadblocks this month which have paralyzed traffic through two border crossings with Serbia.
Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade still does not recognize it and encourages the country’s Serbs to defy Pristina’s authority.
The Serbian government decided to present to NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers a “request … that up to 1,000 (Serbian) military and police personnel return to Kosovo territory”, Vucic told the state-run RTS television late Thursday.
He said the move would be “important for the protection of Serb population” in Kosovo and “dramatically reduce tensions.”
But, he added it was “almost certain … that it will not be accepted”.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani criticized Serbia’s call labeling it a “hegemonic idea.”
“Vucic knows very well that the presence of the Serbian army in Kosovo ended in 1999,” she told the lawmakers in her annual address Thursday.
Osmani was referring to the 1998-1999 war between Belgrade’s troops and independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerillas. The conflict ended with the NATO-led bombing campaign against Serb forces.
Just hours after Kosovo Serbs erected the barricades on December 10, police said they suffered three successive firearm attacks on one of the roads leading to the border.
European Union police deployed in the region as part of the rule of law mission (EULEX) said they were also targeted with a stun grenade, but no officers were injured.
Both, EU and NATO condemned the attacks.
Tensions mounted after Kosovo scheduled local elections in Serb-majority municipalities for December 18 and the main Serb political party said it would stage a boycott.
Shortly after the roadblocks appeared, Osmani postponed the elections till April 23.
Amid the turbulence, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Thursday submitted his country’s application for EU membership.
Serbs account for about 120,000 of Kosovo’s 1.8 million population.