June 22, 2024

The recent flare of violence that left at least four people dead in Kosovo was a tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout the Balkans, raised Serbian and international worries about an escalation of the conflict, and served as a stark reminder of the fragility of peace.

Serbia is determined to protect that peace. The first step is to have a transparent, independent, and international investigation into the incident and, among other things, to determine if excessive force was used against local Serbs. The loss of life is unacceptable. Responsible parties must be held to account.

The event also illustrates the complexity of the situation. The heart of the problem is Prime Minister Albin Kurti who has sewed discord and instability in the region. Rather than engaging in constructive dialogue, Kurti has ignited a series of crises and sent Kosovo into a rapid, downward spiral.

Actions like these are contrary to the spirit of the Brussels Agreement of 2013, which sought to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Under Kurti, hate crimes against Serbs have surged, casting a shadow of fear over the vulnerable non-Albanian population. Ensuring the safety and protection of all ethnic groups is not just a moral imperative, it is also the foundation of a sustainable peace.

The Kurti Administration deployed special police units comprised of ethnic Albanians to Serb-majority areas. These units have enforced unilateral and illegal measures, further eroding trust between communities and violating prior agreements, including the Brussels Agreement.

Serbs have been systematically denied the right to participate in referendums and elections, and their rights are diminishing day by day. Kurti also has refused to initiate the process of establishing the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. This was an essential component of the Brussels Agreement, which aimed to safeguard the rights of the Serbian population in Kosovo by granting self-management to the Serb-majority municipalities. Kurti’s intransigence in this matter violates agreements facilitated by the European Union and the United States and agreed to by his predecessors.

The latest tragedy in Banjska grew out of heightened tensions, desperation, and frustrations. The incident is a reminder of the consequences of unilateral decision making and intentionally provocative behavior. It also is part of a pattern that could lead to further violence and instability because where there is oppression, there will be resistance.

Serbia, in contrast, is committed to stability, and has called for the immediate withdrawal of Kurti’s mono-ethnic police forces in attempt to de-escalate the situation. Illegitimate “mayors” installed with the support of heavily armed special police forces must also be withdrawn, paving the way for democratic and free elections. Serbia expects the Association/Community of Serb-majority Municipalities to be established as soon as possible.

At this crucial and decisive moment, it is imperative to have a clear overview of the situation. Contrary to claims by some media outlets, Serbia is not deploying troops; rather, we have reduced our military presence by half in the past year, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to the preservation of peace. We believe that the top priority at this moment should be conflict prevention by any means necessary. Therefore, we are calling KFOR – the United Nations-mandated, NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo – to increase its presence and assume control of all security aspects and management in North of Kosovo, thus replacing Kurti’s police. This measure should be implemented temporarily, pending a return to an EU-facilitated dialogue, a call for new local elections in the North of Kosovo, and the establishment of the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities. Further steps must be taken to ensure the participation of local Serbs and their reintegration into local police structures. 

This measure aligns with NATO’s legal mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military-Technical Agreement between NATO, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Serbia. Maintenance of a safe and secure environment — the primary KFOR objective — is at risk and requires concrete action.

At the same time, EU facilitated dialogue should continue. The Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, supported by successive U.S. administrations, remains a vital avenue for stabilization of the situation. This diplomatic initiative deserves unwavering attention and support from the international community. Through dialogue and compromise, a path toward a more stable and prosperous future can be charted for the region and beyond.

Serbia remains steadfast in its commitment to adherence to agreements and the pursuit of diplomacy over provocation. Incidents like the one in Banjska must become a thing of the past.

Marko Djuric is Serbia’s ambassador to the U.S.

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