In an on-the-record gaggle for White House press corps the Pavlovic Today is part of, addressing foreign policy matters today, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby delivered remarks focusing on the situation in northern Kosovo. The central theme of the discussion revolved around US concerns regarding a “worrying cycle of rising tensions and sporadic violence” in the region, which has garnered limited attention from the US media, except for The Pavlovic Today.
According to Kirby, White House and State Department officials have been actively engaged in numerous discussions and interactions with President Vučić and Prime Minister Albin Kurti over the past year. These efforts have been conducted in close coordination with the European Union and European partners.
In light of developments following the Ohrid Agreement, Kirby candidly admitted that diplomatic talks have encountered setbacks over the past few months, further exacerbating the already concerning situation.
The most recent incident, according to Kirby, was nothing short of “disturbing”. On September 24, the violent events in Banjska he described as “well coordinated and planned” without delving into specifics about who did what.
Kirby refrained from naming Belgrade as the one behind the group of 30 Serbs who were involved in the clashes with Kosovo Police and said that the investigation is ongoing and the US wants Serbs to participate in.
Serbian government so far said that the Serbs who were involved in the clashes with the Kosovo Police were within the region that is inhabited by Serbs and that Albin Kurti violated Article 9 of the Brussels Agreement that states that “There shall be a Police Regional Commander for the four northern Serb majority municipalities (Northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic). The Commander of this region shall be a Kosovo Serb nominated by the Ministry of Interior from a list provided by the four mayors on behalf of the Community/Association. The composition of the Kosovo Police in the north will reflect the ethnic composition of the population of the four municipalities. (There will be another Regional Commander for the municipalities of Mitrovica South, Skenderaj and Vushtrri). The regional commander of the four northern municipalities will cooperate with other regional commanders.”
Kirby said that approximately 20 SUVs were used to transport “a weapons cache of alarming quantity and sophistication. Much of the weaponry was military grade, including anti-tank rocket launchers, mortar rounds, explosives, and tactical gear.”
Citing Kosovo authorities, Kirby said “It was not the kind of attack that is carried out randomly or by a small fringe group. The amount and types of arms found represent a threat to the safety of international and Kosovan personnel.”
Following the events in Banjska, the Serbian President expressed concern that nearly 460 Kosovo Police officers had been dispatched in pursuit of 30 Serbian nationals. Additionally, he cited reports of sniper use against Serbs in Banjska, a predominantly Serbian region within Kosovo.
The State Department, when asked by the Pavlovic Today about the report of use of snipers by the Kosovo Police that’s partially funded by the US said that while they are aware of the reports, they can’t confirm them.
“Everyone who was involved in planning and carrying out this attack must be brought to justice. We know the Kosovo police are investigating. We call on Serbian authorities to assist in the investigation,” said Kirby.
Director of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petkovic urged EULEX yesterday to ensure the inclusion of a Serbian member in an independent commission investigating the events in Banjska. He said that “sniper weapons were used” and that it seems that certain Serbs were killed at “close range” by the Kosovo Police.
“Beyond that incident, we are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo that includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, and mechanized infantry units,” said Kirby.
NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications referred to the presence of the Serbian military along the border with Kosovo as “a very destabilizing development” that , according to NSC, has occurred over the past week.
“We are calling on Serbia to withdraw forces from the border and lower tensions.”
Secretary Blinken Holds Phone Conversation with President Vučić
Earlier today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in a phone conversation with Serbian President Vučić. During this conversation, Kirby emphasized, Secretary Blinken stressed the urgency of immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue in the region.
Further efforts were made to address the escalating situation as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also had discussions today with Prime Minister Kurti. Their conversation focused on underscored the paramount importance of engaging in a diplomatic dialogue.
While the State Department had not yet released the readout of the phone call at the time of publication of this story, President Vučić stated that he had engaged in an extensive conversation with Blinken. The Serbian head of state asserted that Serbia possessed evidence indicating that “at least one” and “possibly two” Serbs were killed “cold-bloodedly” from “close range” after they had surrendered to the Kosovo Police.
Vučić expressed his disagreement with the characterization of this incident as a “professionally executed” operation. He stated, “Our state has evidence, and we intend to prosecute the cold-blooded killers. We possess statements and photographs that confirm this.”
To enhance stability and reassure residents, KFOR is ramping up its presence of NATO peacekeeping forces in northern Kosovo and the border areas. Additional Allied forces were added yesterday.
“In the days ahead, the United States will continue to consult closely with our Allies to ensure KFOR’s posture matches the threat,” said Kirby. 600 US troops are assigned to KFOR but Kirby does not anticipate any changes in that number.
The United States, according to Kirby, continues to work intensively “to press” both sides to “return to peaceful dialogue through the established EU-facilitated format.”
John Kirby emphasized that it is imperative for both Belgrade and Priština to uphold their “existing commitments and engage in the process in earnest.”
That starts with the 2013 Brussels Agreement that so far Kosovo government failed to implement especially in regard to the formation of the Serb-majority municipalities and that the Police Regional Commander for the four northern Serb majority municipalities should be a Kosovo Serb nominated by the Ministry of Interior from a list provided by the four mayors on behalf of the Community/Association.
Kirby reiterated that the importance for Belgarde and Priština of refraining from actions that could be seen as “provocative” as such actions only serve to intensify tension and hinder progress in their ongoing dialogue.
Kirby concluded by underscoring the critical role of diplomatic progress in ensuring long-term stability in the region.
“Progress on the diplomatic front is critical for long-term stability in the region and to avoid any further violence and bloodshed,” stated Kirby.
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