NATO will beef up peacekeepers in Kosovo if tensions escalate with neighboring Serbia, the head of the alliance said on Wednesday, ahead of EU-facilitated talks between its eastern neighbors. western Balkans.
Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a news conference after talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels, which has a military presence in Kosovo with nearly 4,000 troops.
“If necessary, we will move forces, deploy where needed and strengthen our presence. We have increased our presence in the north. We are ready to do more. “
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo flared this month when Pristina said it would force Serbs living in the north, who are backed by Belgrade and do not recognize Kosovo facilities, to start using car number plates. rent is granted in Pristina.
The situation calmed down after Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, under pressure from the United States and the European Union, agreed to postpone the regulation of number plates until September 1 and NATO peacekeepers to oversee the removal. barriers set up by the Serbs.
However, Vucic told a press conference at NATO that talks with Kurti on Thursday, which will be facilitated by the EU, will be difficult as the two sides disagree on almost everything.
Kurti, who met Stoltenberg later, stressed Kosovo’s determination to become a NATO member.
“The threats, risks and challenges facing NATO in the current security environment are also felt by our country,” he told reporters, linking the issues to Russian influence. .
“Kosovo’s organizations and citizens in the current situation have reason to be wary of the northern neighbor’s destructive (approach) towards Kosovo and the region in general under the adverse agenda of the country. Russia for Europe and the Balkans.”
Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising against Belgrade’s repressive rule.
Legally, Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory. It denies provoking tensions and conflicts there, and accuses Pristina of trampling on minority Serb rights. Ethnic Serbs make up 5% of Kosovo’s 1.8 million population, of which 90% are Albanians.
Vucic said Serbia wants to avoid any escalation of the situation, but it is important to understand that there is “a new generation of young people” who see Kosovo as Serbian territory and will no longer “suffer terrorism”. .
(Reporting by John Chalmers; additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; editing by Jonathan Oatis)