Deadly Clashes Erupt as Kosovo Police Clear Monastery Held by Heavily Armed Men

In a tragic turn of events, at least four lives were lost as Kosovan police engaged in a fierce battle to clear a monastery held by approximately 30 heavily armed men near the border with Serbia. The violence erupted on Sunday, starting with the unfortunate death of a police officer in Banjska village, eventually leading to the occupation of the monastery complex in nearby Leposavic.

The incident took a grim turn when Kosovan police encountered a blockade in Banjska and moved in to investigate at around 03:00 (01:00 GMT). They were met with a hail of gunfire, including firearms, hand grenades, and shoulder-fired missiles from multiple directions. The attackers numbered around 30 individuals and soon infiltrated the monastery complex in Leposavic, where pilgrims from the Serbian city of Novi Sad were residing.

As the day unfolded, a series of battles ensued, leading to the demise of at least three of the armed individuals. Kosovo’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Xhelal Svecla, described these events as a “clearance operation.” During the operation, police made multiple arrests and seized a significant cache of weapons and equipment, although it remained uncertain if all the gunmen had been apprehended.

This violent escalation marks one of the most severe incidents in Kosovo in recent years, amidst rising tensions between Pristina and Belgrade. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti attributed the incursion to “Serbia-sponsored criminals” with military and police backgrounds, accusing them of being financed and motivated by Belgrade. In response, Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, placed blame on Kurti, accusing him of months of “provocations” and holding him responsible for the incident.

Tensions have been running high in Kosovo, with violent clashes erupting in May following a disputed local election, and EU-mediated political talks aimed at stabilizing the situation remaining stalled. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia, with support from China and Russia, does not recognize it as an independent nation. The majority of Kosovo’s population is ethnic Albanian, while ethnic Serbs constitute a small minority.

In response to the violence, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned what he termed a “hideous attack” and called for those responsible to be brought to justice. However, Kosovo’s Foreign Minister, Donika Gervalla-Schwarz, criticized Borrell’s statement for not explicitly supporting the police and refraining from labeling the attackers as “terrorists.”

These events follow the recent collapse of EU-mediated talks, with Borrell blaming Kurti for failing to establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities, a move that would grant them more autonomy. Unrest previously gripped northern Kosovo in May when Kosovo Albanian mayors were installed in majority-Serb areas after Serb residents boycotted local polls. Nato deployed an additional 700 troops to Kosovo in response to the turmoil in the northern town of Zvecan after the elections, where over 30 Nato peacekeepers and more than 50 Serb protesters sustained injuries during clashes.