NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Thomas Goffus urged Kosovo and Serbia to take steps to calm the situation in northern Kosovo.
While KFOR has proved vital in the current situation, the solution to lasting stability is political, said Goffus, who held talks with the President and Prime Minister of Kosovo in Pristina on 5 July.
“It is crucial that both Kosovo and Serbia engage constructively in an EU-mediated dialogue. We call on both sides to implement the basic agreement and its implementing annex agreed in Ohrid as soon as possible,” Gofus said, as announced by NATO.
Kurti on KFOR’s position on the arrest of police officers
The Kosovo government reported that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, in a conversation with the NATO Assistant Secretary General, expressed concern that KFOR was not clear enough on the arrest of three Kosovo police officers on 14 June “despite the abundance of evidence provided by Kosovo institutions”.
Kosovo authorities have repeatedly said that the police officers were kidnapped on their territory, while Serbia has reported that they were “deep inside” its territory when they were arrested.
On 16 June, the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR, reported that it was unclear where the three Kosovo police officers were at the time of their arrest by Serbian forces.
“Following the arrest of the three Kosovo police officers, on 14 June, the NATO-led KFOR mission conducted a site visit and held talks with representatives of Kosovo institutions and the Serbian authorities. Based on the information available, it remains unclear where the Kosovo police officers were at the time of their arrest,” KFOR said in a statement.
According to the government’s communiqué, the Prime Minister also expressed concern about reports that weapons were being smuggled into Serbian Orthodox churches in ambulances.
Allegations of weapons being smuggled in ambulances and stored in churches in Kosovo had been made public by British MP Alicia Cairns the day before, sparking a debate in the British Parliament.
Cairns said that British soldiers, who are part of NATO’s KFOR mission in Kosovo, “used ambulances to discover weapons being smuggled across the border from Serbia into Orthodox churches in Kosovo”.
KFOR reported that the events referred to by the British MEP refer to 2022, when “a battalion of British troops was deployed in northern Kosovo in support of the NATO mission”.
The mission reported that the alleged presence of illegal weapons had been reported to KFOR headquarters, but that no evidence of smuggling had been found during the investigation.
During his meeting with a senior NATO official, Prime Minister Kurti also referred to the punitive measures taken by the European Union (EU) in Kosovo and said that they had created an asymmetry in the dialogue.
“The rule of law, the absence of violent protests and criminal acts and early elections are the path to de-escalation and the government is fully committed to this”, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Osmani said Kosovo had shown the will to de-escalate
A press release from the Kosovo Presidency said that Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani spoke with the NATO Assistant Secretary about the security situation in the north of the country and steps to improve the situation in that part of the country. .
She underlined that Kosovo’s institutions are committed to overcoming the current challenges and strengthening the rule of law together with international partners. It underlined that Kosovo has shown its will for de-escalation and offered to organise new elections in the north of the country, in line with Kosovo’s legal framework, the statement said.
Osmani is also reported to have said that Kosovo’s institutions remain “committed to their responsibilities [as] a reliable NATO partner that actively contributes to regional security”.
Goffus’ visit to Kosovo comes at a time of high tensions in Kosovo’s predominantly Serb north, which the international community has consistently called for a calming of the situation.
Since the end of May, Serbs have been protesting in Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic against the new albanian municipal presidents and the fact that they are working from municipal buildings. The Serbs are also demanding the withdrawal of Kosovo Police special units from the municipal buildings.
On 29 May, local Serbs clashed with KFOR in Zvecan. Dozens of people from both sides were injured in the fighting.
The international community has called on Kosovo and Serbia to take urgent steps to reduce tensions and hold new local elections in the north.