NATO calls for de-escalation in northern Kosovo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) called on Kosovo on Saturday to ease tensions with Serbia, a day after clashes broke out between police and protesters in Serbian-majority Kosovar areas.

Clashes broke out on Friday between Kosovar police and Kosovo Serbs, who tried to prevent newly elected Albanian mayors from taking office.

In response, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed his military on high alert and ordered units closer to the border with Kosovo.

NATO spokeswoman Ona Lungescu said on Twitter: “We call on the institutions of Kosovo to immediately reduce tensions and resolve the situation through dialogue with all parties.”

He said the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR) remains vigilant.

On Saturday, the situation remained tense in the country’s north, where heavily armed police forces in armored vehicles guarded municipal buildings.

Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, defended the police action, which a day earlier escorted new mayors.

“It is the right of people elected in democratic elections to perform their duties without fear or intimidation. It is also the right of citizens to be served by these elected officials,” Albin Kurti said on Twitter on Saturday.

Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008 with Western support after a 1998–1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold in Pristina, writing by Fu Yun Chi, with contributions from Fatos Bytci; French edition by Kate Enstringer)

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