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One Kosovo police officer killed and one wounded, raising tensions with Serbia

A Kosovo police officer guards the road near the village of Banjska, 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of the capital Pristina, northern Kosovo, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Sunday said one police officer was killed and another wounded in an attack he blamed on support from neighboring Serbia, increasing tensions between the two former war foes.
Dejan Simicevic
/
AP
A Kosovo police officer guards the road near the village of Banjska, 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of the capital Pristina, northern Kosovo, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Sunday said one police officer was killed and another wounded in an attack he blamed on support from neighboring Serbia, increasing tensions between the two former war foes.

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo's prime minister on Sunday said one police officer was killed and another wounded in an attack he blamed on support from neighboring Serbia, increasing tensions between the two former war foes at a delicate moment in their European Union-facilitated dialogue to normalize ties.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said "masked professionals armed with heavy weapons" opened fire on a police patrol in the village of Banjska, Leposavic, 55 kilometers (35 miles) north of the capital Pristina at 3 a.m. (01:00 GMT), killing one officer. Another officer was injured but his condition is not life-threatening.

Kosovo police said two trucks with no license plates had blocked a bridge at the entrance of the village. Three police units were sent to unblock it but came under fire from different positions with different weapons, hand grenades and bombs.

Police managed to push back the attack and take two injured police officers at the hospital in southern Mitrovica.

One of them was dead on arrival, doctors said.

The area around Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, is where most of the country's ethnic Serb minority lives, in four municipalities.

Reports in the media in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo said residents of the village of Banjska were waken up by shootings and detonations in the middle of the night until dawn.

"It was a real little war: first some gunfire, then silence, shootings, detonations," Serbian Kossev news agency quoted an unidentified resident as saying.

Serbian media said both local roads and crossings with Serbia were blocked.

"Organized crime, which is politically, financially and logistically supported from Belgrade, is attacking our state," Kurti wrote on his Facebook page.

Kurti said that gunfire against police with different weapons was ongoing.

"The government of the Republic of Kosovo and its state institutions are ready and coordinated to respond to crime and criminals, terror and terrorists," he said.

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani, who is in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, denounced the killing and the "attacks against the Republic of Kosovo's sovereignty."

"Such attacks testify once again the destabilizing power of the criminal bands organized from Serbia which for a long time .. are destabilizing Kosovo and the region," she said.

The United States' ambassador in Pristina "strongly condemns the orchestrated, violent attacks on the Kosovo Police this morning" in a statement, adding that "the Kosovo Police has full and legitimate responsibility for enforcing the rule of law according to the constitution and laws of Kosovo."

"The perpetrators must and will be held accountable and brought to justice. They should immediately cease their attacks," he said.

Serbia's parliamentary speaker Vladimir Orlic said Kurti "was quick to blame the Serbs," adding that Kurti was the one who wanted an "escalation" in the field.

"He (Kurti) said it was some kind of organized action by professionals," Orlic told local Prva television station. "They must have been identified and he knows who they are and what they are, and everything is clear."

Earlier this month, an EU-facilitated dialogue meeting in Brussels between Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ended in acrimony.

Washington has fully supported the negotiations and the stance of the EU.

In February, the EU put forward a 10-point plan to end months of political crises. Kurti and Vucic gave their approval at the time, but with some reservations that have still not been resolved.

The EU warned both countries that the commitments that Serbia and Kosovo made in February "are binding on them and play a role in the European path of the parties," which refers to their chances of joining the 27-nation bloc.

In May tensions in northern Kosovo left 93 peacekeepers hurt in riots.

Serbia and its former province, Kosovo, have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-99 war left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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