Kosovo, Serbia trade accusations over deadly monastery standoff

Pristina/Belgrade: Kosovo and Serbia have traded accusations over a deadly standoff at a Serbian Orthodox monastery during which one policeman and three gunmen were killed.

Sunday’s incident between ethnic Serb gunmen and police in Banjska village, northern Kosovo, marked one of the deadliest escalations in Kosovo for years, and follows months of mounting tension between the two sides.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not recognise it.

The shooting began at about 3 a.m. on Sunday, after Kosovan police said they arrived in Banjska, where about 30 heavily armed gunmen had earlier barricaded themselves in the monastery near the Serbian border.

Three of the gunmen were killed in the standoff through the day as police mounted what Kosovo’s interior minister Xhelal Svecla described as a “clearance operation”.

“We put this territory under control. It was done after several consecutive battles,” the BBC quoted the Minister as saying.

The local authorities said six people were arrested, and a significant number of weapons was seized.

Meanwhile, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed “Serbia-sponsored criminals” for the incursion, saying they were “professionals, with military and police background” who were financed and motivated by Belgrade.

But Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic hit back, blaming Kurti for months of “provocations”, adding that the three gunmen killed were Kosovo Serbs.

While describing the death of the Kosovo police officer as “absolutely reprehensible”, he said Kurti bore responsibility for the incident.

“His only wish is to drag us into a war with NATO and that’s the only thing he does all day”.

Tensions have escalated in Kosovo, after violent clashes followed disputed local elections in May, reports the BBC.

Kosovo Albanian mayors were installed in majority-ethnic Serb areas, after local residents boycotted the polls.


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