The US has determined that a recent assault carried out by possible Serbian militia in the northern region of Kosovo, resulting in the deaths of one officer and three attackers, was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the area. The US is cautioning of potential increased tensions between the historic adversaries.
“The incident was clearly orchestrated and well-planned,” stated Jeffrey M. Hovenier, the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, in an interview with POLITICO. He also noted that the attackers seemed to have received military training, as evidenced by their actions. “The sheer amount of weapons indicates a significant level of severity and intent to disrupt the security in the area.”
According to Kosovo police, a band of approximately 30 heavily armed Serbs attacked a police patrol in the early hours of Sunday. The attack resulted in the death of one officer and the injury of another. The assailants then fled and sought shelter at a nearby Orthodox monastery. In the ensuing gunfight with the police, three gunmen were killed and two were apprehended. Although most of the Serbian attackers were able to slip out of the monastery and flee on foot, Kosovo authorities reported.
Officials from the West stated that the event was a result of increased political tensions in the Balkans. Russia, who is displeased with Europe’s strong backing of Ukraine, is attempting to manipulate its influence over allies in Serbia and other areas to provoke conflict, specifically in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Hovenier stated that the United States had not yet established culpability for the attack, as claimed by Kosovo, but he did confirm that the equipment confiscated by authorities, including missile launchers, mines, and an armored personnel carrier, were of a “military caliber” and not typically accessible to civilians. He further clarified that the U.S. had no reason to question the authenticity of the weapons and other items displayed by Kosovo police during a media briefing on Monday as being those discovered at the site.
“The individuals we hold most responsible are those who shot at the Kosovo police officer,” stated Hovenier.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić denied Belgrade was involved in the attack, insisting it was the work of local Kosovo Serbs provoked by Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who has increased policing in the disputed region in recent months.
According to officials from the west, it is uncertain if the gunmen intentionally provoked a clash with Kosovo police on Sunday or if they were planning a more extensive operation and coincidentally encountered a squad of Kosovo police.
Efforts have been made by the EU and U.S. to facilitate a long-lasting resolution between Serbia and Kosovo. However, reaching an agreement has proven to be difficult due to ongoing disputes over the status of northern Kosovo, where the majority of residents are Serbian.
Belgrade continues to regard Kosovo as a breakaway province. The country declared independence in 2008, nearly a decade after a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw from the region.
Over the course of the conflict, approximately 10,000 lives were lost in Kosovo, with the majority being of Albanian ethnicity at over 90%.
Although there is a strong lack of trust between the two parties, Hovenier emphasized the importance of Western attempts to bring about peace.
He regretted the incident and expressed hope that it would encourage positive relations between Belgrade and Pristina.