Serbia Pres. Denies Troop Buildup 10/01 08:52
Serbia's president on Sunday denied U.S. and other reports of a military
buildup along the border with Kosovo, complaining of a "campaign of lies"
against his country in the wake of a shootout a week earlier that killed four
people and fueled tensions in the volatile Balkan region.
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -- Serbia's president on Sunday denied U.S. and other
reports of a military buildup along the border with Kosovo, complaining of a
"campaign of lies" against his country in the wake of a shootout a week earlier
that killed four people and fueled tensions in the volatile Balkan region.
Both the United States and the European Union expressed concern earlier this
week about what they said was an increased military deployment by Serbia's
border with its former province, and they urged Belgrade to scale down its
troop presence there.
Kosovo's government said Saturday it was monitoring the movements of the
Serbian military from "three different directions." It urged Serbia to
immediately pull back its troops and demilitarize the border area.
"A campaign of lies ... has been launched against our Serbia," President
Aleksandar Vucic responded in a video post on Instagram. "They have lied a lot
about the presence of our military forces .... In fact, they are bothered that
Serbia has what they describe as sophisticated weapons."
Associated Press reporters traveling in the border region Sunday saw several
Serbian army transport vehicles driving away toward central Serbia, a sign that
the military might be scaling down its presence in the region following calls
from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others.
Tensions have soared following the violence in northern Kosovo last Sunday
involving heavily armed Serb gunmen and Kosovo police officers. The clash was
one of the worst since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and
prompted NATO to announce it would beef up a peacekeeping force stationed in
Serbia has denied Kosovo's allegations that it trained the group of some 30
men who opened fire on police officers, leaving one dead, and then barricaded
themselves in an Orthodox Christian monastery in northern Kosovo. Three
insurgents died in the hours-long shootout that ensued.
Kosovo has also said it was investigating possible Russian involvement in
the violence. Serbia is Russia's main ally in Europe, and there are fears in
the West that Moscow could try to stir trouble in the Balkans to avert
attention from the war in Ukraine.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said
Friday that U.S. officials were monitoring a large deployment of Serbian troops
along the border with Kosovo, describing it as an "unprecedented staging of
advanced Serbian artillery, tanks and mechanized infantry units."
Vucic has several times over the past months raised the combat readiness
level of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo. Serbia also has been
reinforcing its troops with weapons and other equipment mainly purchased from
Russia and China.
"We will continue to invest in the defense of our country but Serbia wants
peace," the president said Sunday. "Everything they said they made up and lied,
and they knew they were making up and lying."
Last weekend's shootout near the village of Banjska followed months of
tensions in Kosovo's north, where ethnic Serbs are a majority of the population
and have demanded self-rule. Dozens of soldiers from the NATO-led peacekeeping
force known as KFOR were injured in May in a clash with ethnic Serbs protesting
the Kosovo police presence in the area.
Fearing wider instability as the war rages in Ukraine, Washington and
Brussels have sought to negotiate a normalization of relations between Serbia
and Kosovo, but the two sides have failed to implement a tentative agreement
that was recently reached as part of an EU-mediated dialogue.