Nato troops step up patrols as tensions rise at Kosovo-Serbia border

The NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo yesterday increased its patrols on the border with Serbia in a bid to de-escalate tensions between the two Balkan foes over a dispute about licence plates.

KFOR has increased the number and time length of the routine patrolling all around Kosovo, including northern Kosovo,” a statement read.

The US Embassy in Serbia tweeted that American and Canadian defence officials had visited the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings “to gain a better understanding of the situation.” “They were glad to note KFOR was on site as a stabilising factor,” the US Embassy tweeted.

KFOR, with around 4,000 troops, is led by Nato but is supported by the United Nations, the European Union and other international actors. Its aim is to stave off lingering ethnic tensions between majority Kosovo Albanians and minority Kosovo Serbs.

The move comes a day after Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic warned Nato that Serbia will intervene in Kosovo if Kosovo Serbs come under serious threat from the majority Kosovo Albanians.

Serbia raised its military alert last week, with Serbian military aircraft flying close to the border with Kosovo in an apparent show of force.

A week ago after Kosovo government’s decision, ethnic Kosovo Serbs blocked the Kosovo-Serbia border with trucks to protest the rule on replacing the number plate of the vehicles with a temporary one when entering the country, paying €5 for a two-month period.

Kosovo sent in special police to protect the country’s border officers and their installations while implementing the new rule, according to Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Kosovo authorities say they were matching Serbia in a licence plate move that heightens tensions in the Balkans.

Kosovo says a 10-year-old deal achieved during the EU-facilitated talks between the two countries expired on September 15 and it was applying the same rule Serbia used for vehicles entering into their country from Kosovo.

Serbia doesn’t recognise its former province of Kosovo as a separate nation and considers their mutual border only as a temporary boundary.

Last weekend, Kosovo officials said a public building was set on fire and another was hit by grenades that didn’t explode in what they described as criminal acts related to a protest by ethnic Serbs.

Yesterday, Mr Kurti repeated the offer that both countries lift the rule of temporary licence plates as the solution. He also said they were open to talks in Brussels, but Belgrade was declining to hold them.

Mr Vucic has described Kosovo’s recent licence plate move as a “criminal action,” and he made the withdrawal of all Kosovar special police a condition of EU-mediated talks to resolve the dispute.

The EU, NATO and the US have urged Kosovo and Serbia to exercise restraint.

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