What to Know:
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has claimed that last week’s attack by Serb gunmen against Banjska was part of a plan to annex the region by Serbia.
On Monday, Kurti took to X to accused Serbia of attempting to annex Northern Kosovar territories, claiming that last weeks attack against the village of Banjska “was part of a larger plan to annex the north of Kosova via a coordinated attack on 37 distinct positions. Establishing a corridor to Serbia would follow, to enable supply of arms & troops.”
Pictured: The terrorists who carried out the attacks trained in Pasuljanske Livade, one of the Serbian Army's key bases, ~4 days before the attacks. Other exercises took place in the Kopaonik base. The attacks enjoyed the full support & planning of the Serbian state. pic.twitter.com/eWp4dMsGee
— Albin Kurti (@albinkurti) October 1, 2023
Hours earlier, he also claimed that the gunmen had been trained at a Serbian military base just days before the attack, stating that “The attacks enjoyed the full support & planning of the Serbian state.”
On September 24, over two dozen Serb gunmen carried out an ambush on a Kosovar police patrol, killing an officer, before they stormed a monastery in the village of Banjska, which is located in the ethnic-Serb majority municipality of Zvecan. After an hours long standoff and numerous firefights, several gunman were either killed or apprehended, with the rest having escaped.
Zastava M84 machine guns, M72 LMG, M80 'Zolja' anti-tank weapons, Zastava M76 DMR, Zastava M93 automatic grenade launcher with… pic.twitter.com/C5y3DQyiZ6
— War Noir (@war_noir) September 25, 2023
Analysis of the firearms and equipment used in the attack suggest that the gunmen relied heavily on Serbian weaponry. The attackers notably used a TAM 110 T7 B/BV truck, which is commonly operated by Serbian Gendarmery.
Since the attack, Kosovar officials have accused Serbia of being involved with the planning and execution of the operation, which has been denied.
Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic has denied Kurti’s allegations, saying that Serbian military forces were not involved in the clashes. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had also previously denied Serbian involvement, stating that the attackers were Kosovar-Serbs that were “standing up to Kurti’s terror” against the local population.
Why this Matters:
The allegations come amid a drastic increase in ethnic and political tensions over the past year due to a domino effect of events. While ethnic and political tensions have persisted heavily since the Kosovo War, they have increased recently due to a political spat over ethnic-Albanian Kosovar authorities attempting to ban Serbian license plates issued before 1999, which are almost exclusively used by ethnic-Serbs. This lead to ethnic-Serbian police officers, judges, and government officials in Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo resigning en masse in protest, spurring fears of increased ethnic violence and political volatility.
The European Union brokered an emergency meeting between the two in November to find a solution, but it failed. During the meeting, the EU proposed a solution that would involve Kosovo not punishing ethnic Serbs who continued to use Serbian plates while Serbia would cease issuing them in Serb majority areas of Kosovo. This proposal was accepted by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, but rejected by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. While the exact details of the meeting are still unclear, Borrell noted the two officials’ “lack of respect for their international legal obligations.”
Due to the resignations in protest of the license plate measures, snap elections were to be held in December in northern Kosovo in the ethnic-Serb municipalities of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok. Albanian-Kosovar officials deployed special police forces to the Serb-majority municipalities “to provide security for all citizens,” however, their presence unsurprisingly led to a flare up of tensions and clashes, which ultimately caused the elections to be postponed until April.
?? Clashes between members of Kosovo special forces and Serbs
?The Minister of Defense of #Serbia confirms the urgent advance of the army to the administrative border with Kosovo pic.twitter.com/5QHt6Xmnfd
— ?-???? (@L_Team10) May 26, 2023
When April rolled around, however, ethnic-Serbs boycotted them in protest as well, which was backed by Belgrade. Due to the boycott, ethnic-Albanians won the elections for the municipalities and took their positions in May. Protests held in Zvecan and attempts to block the officials from entering their offices quickly deteriorated into clashes between ethnic-Serbs and Kosavar police, which resulted in several injuries. Serbian officials condemned the Kosovar police response, calling for rapid troop deployment to the border because “It is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening.”
While this was happening, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed the Serbian military on full combat readiness alert and ordered forces to be placed along the border with Kosovo, stating that ethnic-Serbs were not safe under the rule of ethnic-Albanian Kosovar authorities.
Last week, the United States accused Serbia of building up its military forces along the border, stating that there was am “unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry units,” calling it a “very destabilizing development.” On Saturday, Vucic said that forces would begin to withdraw, but also called the allegations of troop build ups “a campaign of lies,” further stating “They have lied a lot about the presence of our military forces…In fact, they are bothered that Serbia has what they describe as sophisticated weapons.”