Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Serbia threatens to invade Kosovo, stirring bad memories

  • Ana Brnabic (c) at an EU meeting in Brussels last month (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Serbia, backed by a fake news campaign, has accused Kosovo of planning "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovar Serbs, stirring bad memories of the Balkans wars.

"I hope that we will never have to use our army, but at the moment it is one of the options on the table, because we cannot watch a new ethnic cleansing [of Serbs] and new Storms," Serbia's prime minister, Ana Brnabic, told press in Belgrade on Wednesday (5 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Ramush Haradinaj with Europe's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in the EU capital (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Operation Storm was the name of the last battle in Croatia's war of independence from Serbia in 1995, which led to the forced expulsion of over 150,000 ethnic Serbs.

Brnabic spoke amid Kosovo's plan to rename the 'Kosovo Security Force', a lightly-armed body of 4,000 men, into the 'Army of Kosovo' after a parliament vote on 14 December.

The army would "on 15 December, move to subjugate people only because they are Serbs", Brnabic added, referring to a Kosovar Serb enclave in north Kosovo, which remains under Serbia's de facto rule.

Serbia's president, Aleksandar Vucic, also poured fuel on the fire, saying: "Serbia cannot peacefully watch the destruction of the Serbian people".

Fake news

Their statements were accompanied by a fake news campaign in Serbia's state-controlled media.

"CIA sending a ship full of weapons and armaments" to be "distributed in south Mitrovica", one of Serbia's tabloids thundered on Wednesday, referring to a US spy agency and a Kosovo region abutting the Serb enclave.

"Unprecedented warmongering ... incredible lies, all of it," Petrit Selimi, Kosovo's former foreign minister, tweeted in response.

"We will not create the army for the north, it is a pure lie. Our army will serve in Afghanistan and Iraq [with Nato] to help world peace," Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj also said.

Serbia's propaganda onslaught echoed Russia's one in the Western Balkans, where Serb-language Russian media have been pumping out US-Kosovo conspiracy theories for years in a bid to stop EU and Nato enlargement by causing instability.

Russia also weighed in on Wednesday.

"We expect the international forces for Kosovo (Kfor) ... in the event of the appearance of such a structure (Kosovo army), [to] immediately take comprehensive measures to neutralise and disarm it," the Russian foreign ministry said.

Kfor is a 4,000-strong, 28-nation Nato peacekeeping force deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after the Serbia-Kosovo war, one of the bloodiest in the region, ended.

Part of its mandate is to "deter renewed hostility and threats against Kosovo by ... Serb forces", meaning that if Brnabic made good on her threat, then Serbia's forces might clash with Nato.

Tension spikes

The spike in tension comes amid Kosovo-Serbia talks to normalise relations and one day join the EU.

EU ambassadors agreed to open two new "chapters" in Serbia's accession talks also on Wednesday.

But the negotiations on normalising ties are in peril over a proposal to swap the main ethnic Serb enclave in Kosovo for an Albanian one in Serbia.

The idea, backed by Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, but opposed by Haradinaj, has caused turmoil in Kosovo politics.

It has also prompted a split in the region's Western protectors - the US has backed the idea, but Germany has warned that changing borders on ethnic lines could destabilise the Western Balkans.

Nato alarm

For his part, Nato head Jens Stoltenberg urged Belgrade and Pristina to "refrain from provocative steps and statements" on Wednesday.

He also criticised Kosovo, however.

"Such a step [the Kosovo army] is coming at a wrong time," he said in Brussels.

"What they have announced now is happening without consulting Nato allies and other countries, as well as without an inclusive process in Kosovo itself," he said.

Kfor would "have to reconsider its level of engagement in Kosovo" if Pristina went ahead, he added.

The army row comes after Haradinaj imposed 100 percent tariffs on imports of Serb goods, costing Serbia €42m a month in losses, according to Belgrade's calculation.

He did it when Serbia blocked Kosovo's bid to join the international police agency, Interpol, last month.

The EU and Nato have urged Haradinaj to back down, with Stoltenberg saying on Wednesday that it made dialogue "even more difficult".

But Albania voiced solidarity with its majority-ethnic Albanian neighbour the same day.

"In these abnormal conditions the tax should be seen as a political outcry and not of a trade war", Albanian prime minister Edi Rama told press while on a visit to Croatia.

Opinion

How media freedom in Serbia is under attack

A surge in pressure and violence is directly related to a stricter control of power by president Aleksandar Vucic, who was the former minister of information during the Slobodan Milosevic regime.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

Opinion

Why it's time for the Kosovo Security Force

The Kosovan deputy PM calls on Nato members to follow the US in supporting the enlargement of the Kosovo Securitiy Force. "Kosovo owes it to both its own people and the international community to take this step", Behgjet Pacolli says.

EU sides with protests against Bosnian Serb chief

EU diplomats in Bosnia have voiced sympathy for protesters against lawlessness in the Serb entity ruled by Russian darling Milorad Dodik, after demonstrations in Banja Luka left one police officer injured.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us