Washington Urges Calm in Balkans Amid High Tensions on Kosovo Border

Amid soaring tension with Serbia that Kosovo has fueled by arresting a former Serb police officer, the United States on Wednesday expressed its concerns over the continued tense situation and appealed for calm in the Balkans.

In a joint statement with the EU on Wednesday, the two western powers called on both Kosovo and Serbia to take steps to de-escalate and refrain from provocations, threats, or intimidation by showing maximum restraint.

The statement further noted that both Kosovo and Serbia are expected to return to fostering an environment conducive to reconciliation, regional stability, and cooperation for the benefit of their citizens, respecting at the same time rule of law.

Washington has underscored that any form of violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Meanwhile, in order to ease the tensions, Kosovan authorities announced Wednesday that Dejan Pantic, a former Kosovo Serb policeman who was arrested on December 10 for allegedly assaulting a Kosovan agent, will be released from custody and put under house arrest following a request by Kosovan prosecutors.

When the dispute between the two countries over license plates in late July helped ignite the latest tension, Pantic was one of many ethnic Serb police officers to hand in their police badges.

Pantic’s arrest and the deployment of heavily armed ethnic Albanian police in Serb communities triggered violent protests by Kosovo’s Serb minority, a court spokesperson said on Wednesday, with Ethnic Serbs setting up roadblocks near the border. On top of that, all this was followed by a series of shooting incidents.

While Serbia, which put this week its armed forces at their highest level of combat readiness, argued that protests at the border were democratic and peaceful, Kosovo used the illegal blockades as a pretext to close a border crossing on Wednesday.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, on the other hand, asked representatives of the Kosovo Serbs he met with on Wednesday to dismantle roadblocks after he was reportedly given written guarantees by the EU and US that participants in the peaceful protests against Kosovo PM Albin Kurti’s terror will not be arrested.

Vucic added that KFOR, NATO’s peacekeeping force in Kosovo, also issued new guarantees that Kosovo Security Forces won’t be deployed to the Serb-majority counties in the north of the country.

Under the provisions of the 2013  Brussels Agreement with Belgrade – which Kurti’s government has said it had no intention of honoring – Pristina’s police were not supposed to be in the north at all.

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