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Serbia seeks return of its troops to Kosovo as tensions soar

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia on Thursday formally demanded that its security forces return to the breakaway former Serbian province of Kosovo, despite warnings from the West that such calls are unlikely to be accepted and only add to tensions in that part of the Balkans .

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told state RTS television that the government asked the commander of NATO-led peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo since 1999, when the Western alliance pushed out Serb troops from the region, to allow the return of up to 1,000 Serbian army and police officers to the Serb-populated north of the country.

“The request says that a certain number of (Serbian troops), from one hundred to up to 1,000, return to Kosovo,” Vucic said.

He said that despite the fact that it is “almost certain that this will not be granted,” the request will be put on the record.

Serbian officials claim a United Nations resolution that formally ended the Kosovo war allows for Serbian troops to return to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to stop the war, end its bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and civilians and order its troops out of Kosovo.

Serbian officials claim that the NATO and European Union-led peacekeeping missions are unable to protect the minority Serbs in Kosovo from harassment by majority Kosovo Albanians and that their security forces can do the job.

The return of Serbian troops is unlikely to be granted because it would de facto mean handing over security of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb-populated northern regions to Serbian forces — a move that would dramatically increase tensions in the Balkans.

German and US officials have vehemently rejected any idea of ​​the return of Serbian security forces to the region.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo flared anew during the past week after Serbs erected barricades on the main roads in the north of the province to protest the arrest of a former Kosovo Serb police officer. Shots were fired from the barricades.

Serbia raised combat readiness of its troops on the border with Kosovo and warned it would not stand by if Serbs in Kosovo, who make up less than 10% of Kosovo’s population, are attacked.

Kosovo’s statehood has been accepted by the US and much of the West. Serbia and its allies Russia and China have rejected it and have blocked Kosovo from joining the UN and other international institutions.

There are fears that Russia could push Serbia into another military intervention in Kosovo to try to shift at least some of the world attention from its invasion in Ukraine. Under Vucic’s populist leadership, Serbia has steadily been shifting away from its proclaimed EU membership goal and toward a close political and military alliance with Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that “the Russian Ambassador to Serbia, who is in close contact with the Serbian leadership, has received instructions from the center (Moscow) to take concrete steps of support (to Serbia) which include normalizing or proposing ways to normalize the situation” in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, Kosovo’s prime minister on Thursday formally tabled his country’s application to be granted candidacy status for membership in the European Union, a first step in what looks set to be a very long path to eventual membership.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti submitted the application to Czech Minister for European Affairs Mikulas Bek, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

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