The commander of NATO forces in Kosovo warned Wednesday that the situation in the region remains volatile, despite a return to calm after violence flared earlier this year.
Unrest rocked Serb-majority areas in the north of the territory in May, including a riot that saw more than 30 NATO peacekeepers injured during a clash with ethnic Serb protesters.
“It is calm, but the risk that it will deteriorate is around the corner and that is why we need a political solution,” said Italian Major General Angelo Ristuccia, commander of the NATO KFOR peacekeeping mission.
“The situation is still highly volatile.”
Northern Kosovo has remained riven by divisions and periods of unrest since Pristina declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Tensions skyrocketed after Kosovo’s leadership installed ethnic Albanian mayors in four Serb-majority municipalities.
Kosovo is overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians, but in the northern stretches of the territory near the border with Serbia, ethnic Serbs remain the majority in several municipalities.
Belgrade — along with its key allies China and Russia — has refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
KFOR is the country’s top security institution and bolstered its forces to 4,500 troops in the wake of the violent clashes in May.
The peacekeeping force has been stationed in Kosovo since the end of the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas and Serbian forces.
The EU — which has been conducting a years-long push to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia — has invited leaders from the two sides for a new round of talks next week.
Ristuccia, who ends his one-year mandate in charge next month, said that there was a “multitude of issues” that need to be solved through the political dialogue.
“We are living in a time of constant crisis management,” he said.
“My concern is that even the most insignificant event can trigger the situation.”