BELGRADE – Serbia’s president called on NATO on Sunday to “do their job” in Kosovo or he says Serbia itself will move to protect its minority in the breakaway province.
The fiery televised address to his nation by President Aleksandar Vucic followed the collapse of political talks between Serbian and Kosovo leaders earlier this week mediated by the European Union in Brussels.
Serbia, along with its allies Russia and China, has 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 stopped Belgrade’s bloody crackdown against Kosovo's majority Albanians.
The EU has overseen years of unsuccessful talks to normalize their ties, saying that’s one of the main preconditions for Kosovo and Serbia’s eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.
“We have nowhere to go, we are cornered,” Vucic said. “We will save our people from persecution and pogroms, if NATO does not want to do it.”
He also claimed that Kosovo Albanian “gangs” need to be stopped from crossing into northern Kosovo, where most of the Kosovo Serbs live. He offered no proof 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 shift at least some world and NATO attention from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Nearly 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo following 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 collapse of the EU-mediated talks, NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo have been deployed at main roads in its north, saying they are ready to protect the freedom of movement for all sides.
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo soared anew last month when the Kosovo government led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo’s territory. Serbia has been implementing the same measures for Kosovo citizens crossing into Serbia for the past 10 years.
Minority Serbs in Kosovo reacted with anger to the proposed changes, putting up roadblocks, sounding air raid sirens and firing guns into the air and in the direction of Kosovo police officers. No one was injured.
Under apparent pressure from the West, Kurti postponed implementation of the measure for a month to Sept. 1, when more trouble is expected if a compromise is not reached by then.
Vucic said Serbia will “work hard” to reach a “compromise solution in the next 10 days" and accused the Kosovo leadership of “only being interested in abolishing any trace of the Serbian state in Kosovo."
Vucic also claimed, again without proof, that Kosovo's government wanted “the final removal of the Serbian people from Kosovo" — something that has been repeatedly denied by Kosovo officials.
Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla on Sunday visited Kosovo police units stationed near the northern border with Serbia, saying that he hopes there will be no trouble when the new measures begin on Sept.1.
“Our common interest here is that this land is ours and we will not give it up at any price,” he said.
AP writer Jovana Gec contributed.