BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s army commander urged NATO peacekeepers and other international bodies on Friday to step up measures to protect minority Serbs in Kosovo, adding that “the international community is not fulfilling its obligations”.
The call from General Milan Mojsilovic came a day after the European Union, Serbia and Kosovo failed to make a breakthrough in talks aimed at ending weeks of violence in predominantly ethnic Serb areas of northern Kosovo.
In a rare public address, Mojsilovic said he had asked NATO peacekeeping mission KFOR and other international bodies to undertake urgent measures to protect ethnic Serbs there.
“Because of … professional cooperation we have, I have informed the KFOR commander that we are following events with great anxiety and that urgent measures must be taken to protect the Serbian people,” Mojsilovic told reporters.
“Today it is clear that the international community is not fulfilling its obligations,” he said without elaborating.
Violence flared in four northern Kosovo municipalities late last month after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election in which turnout came to just 3.5%.
Ethnic Serbs, who make up the majority of the population in the region, had boycotted the vote.
A number of Serbs were also arrested by Kosovo police during and after the protests.
In response, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in May deployed troops near the Kosovo border.
“The Serbian armed forces, in accordance with the constitution and the UN Charter, if they receive an order … will fully carry out all their tasks in relation to the overall security crisis” Mojsilovic said on Friday without elaborating.
Mojsilovic’s statement came hours after Kosovo’s own soldiers marched through the southern, Albanian part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, where ethnic Serbs make up the majority in the north.
Earlier in the day, Kosovo Defence Minister Armend Mehaj said the march was part of regular training “which has nothing to do with the security situation in the north of the republic.”
“Responsibility for the safety of our citizens lies with Kosovo police,” he said.
Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina soared last week when Serbian police arrested three Kosovo policemen, saying they crossed the border between the two countries. Pristina says they were arrested inside Kosovo.
Kosovo, formerly a southern province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 after a late 1990s uprising by its ethnic Albanian majority during which NATO bombed rump Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, to halt a brutal Serbian security crackdown.
Last December, for the first time since the end of the war in 1999, Belgrade asked NATO to allow it to send Serbian troops to Kosovo after clashes between Kosovo authorities and ethnic Serbs in the northern region. In January, NATO declined Serbia’s request.
Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population in Kosovo, while the Serbs form the majority in four northern municipalities and several enclaves inside Kosovo.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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