June 19, 2024

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A NATO top commander said Tuesday the alliance equipped its peacekeeping force in Kosovo with weapons of “combat power” following a recent shootout between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and sent tensions soaring in the region.

Adm. Stuart B. Munsch of the Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy said that a battalion of some 200 troops from the United Kingdom and 100 others from Romania “is bringing heavier armament in order to have combat power to” the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, but didn’t elaborate further.

The KFOR peacekeepers — made up of around 4,500 troops from 27 nations — have been in Kosovo since June 1999, basically with light armament and vehicles. The 1998-1999 war between Serbia and Kosovo ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. More than 10,000 people died, mostly Kosovo Albanians.

On Sept. 24, around 30 Serb gunmen killed a Kosovar police officer and then set up barricades in northern Kosovo before launching an hours-long gun battle with Kosovo police. Three gunmen were killed.

NATO had first increased its troops with some 600 Turkish ones after the May 29 clashes with ethnic Serbs.

Munsch said the alliance was ready to add more troops and armaments to preserve peace.

“NATO is maintaining further forces equipped with even heavier armament capable of further combat power on a high state of readiness that is deployable should the nations of NATO decide to do so,” he said.

Outgoing KFOR commander Maj. Gen. Angelo Michele Ristuccia said KFOR fully supported the EU-facilitated dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade for the normalization of their ties.

“The situation remains volatile and can easily escalate. Only a political solution can bring a lasting peace and stability in the area,” he said.

In February, the European Union put forward a 10-point plan to end months of political crises. Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic gave their approval at the time, but with some reservations that haven’t been resolved.

The EU-facilitated dialogue, which began in 2011, has yielded few results.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 — a move that Belgrade refuses to recognize.


Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Follow him at https://twitter.com/lsemini

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