Serbia warns it will protect Kosovo Serbs if NATO doesn’t

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president on Sunday called on NATO to “do its job” in Kosovo where he said Serbia itself will act to protect its minority in the breakaway province.

President Aleksandar Vucic’s fiery televised address to his nation followed the breakdown of political talks between Serbian and Kosovar leaders earlier this week mediated by the European Union in Brussels.

Serbia, along with its allies Russia and China, refused to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. A NATO-led intervention in 1999 ended the war between Serbian forces and separatists in Kosovo and ended Belgrade’s bloody crackdown on the Kosovar Albanian majority.

The EU has overseen years of unsuccessful talks to normalize their relations, saying it is one of the key preconditions for Kosovo and Serbia’s eventual membership of the 27-nation bloc.

“We have nowhere to go, we are stuck,” Vucic said. “We will save our people from persecution and pogroms, if NATO won’t do it.”

He also said that Kosovo Albanian “gangs” should be prevented from entering northern Kosovo, where most Kosovo Serbs live. He provided no evidence for the claim.

There are widespread fears in the West that Russia could encourage its ally Serbia into an armed intervention in northern Kosovo that would further destabilize the Balkans and divert at least some of the world’s and NATO’s attention away from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Nearly 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers were stationed in Kosovo after the 1998-99 war and any armed intervention there by Serbia or Russia would mean a major escalation of a simmering conflict in Europe .

Following the failure of EU-brokered talks, NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have been deployed on major roads in the north, saying they are ready to protect the freedom of movement of all the parts.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo skyrocketed again last month when Kosovo’s government led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti said Serbian identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid. on the territory of Kosovo. Serbia has been implementing the same measures for Kosovar citizens entering Serbia for 10 years.

Minority Kosovo Serbs have reacted angrily to the proposed changes, erecting roadblocks, sounding air raid sirens and firing gunfire in the air and towards Kosovo police. No one was hurt.

Under apparent pressure from the West, Kurti postponed the implementation of the measure by a month until September 1, when more problems are expected if a compromise is not reached by then. .

Vucic said Serbia would ‘work hard’ to reach a ‘compromise solution within the next 10 days’ and accused Kosovo’s leaders of ‘only being interested in abolishing all traces of the state Serbian in Kosovo”.

Vucic also claimed, again without evidence, that the Kosovo government wanted “the final expulsion of the Serbian people from Kosovo” – something that has been repeatedly denied by Kosovo officials.

Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla visited Kosovo police units stationed near the northern border with Serbia on Sunday, saying he hopes there will be no problems when news measurements will begin on September 1.

“Our common interest here is that this land is ours and we will not give it up at any cost,” he said.

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AP writer Jovana Gec contributed.

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