Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said Monday that Serbia’s armed forces are on “the highest level” of alert, highlighting increasingly strained relations with neighboring Kosovo over recent shootings and blockades.
“The President of Serbia … has ordered the Serbian army to be at the highest level of combat readiness, that is, to the level of using armed force,” Vucevic said in a statement.
He added that President Aleksandar Vucic also ordered the reinforcement of the Special Armed Forces from 1,500 to 5,000.
The Serbian Ministry of the Interior also announced that “all units (will) be immediately under the command of the Chief of the General Staff”.
The orders come from Vucic after the army chief, Gen. Milan Moiselovic, was sent to the border with Kosovo on Sunday.
Vucic said he would “take all measures to protect our people and preserve Serbia”.
This follows media allegations that Pristina is preparing an “attack” on ethnic Serb areas in northern Kosovo.
The government in Pristina has not commented on the allegations, but has previously accused Vucic of playing “games” to stir up trouble.
The European Union was trying to mediate, calling for “maximum restraint and immediate action” to stem the tension, and for the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to “contribute personally to a political solution”.
But at the same time he warned that he would not tolerate attacks on EU police or criminal acts.
The Kosovo Security Council, which met on Monday, blamed Serbia for the recent deterioration in relations, saying its northern neighbor was “acting with all available means against the constitutional order of the Republic of Kosovo”.
Serbs make up about 120,000 of Kosovo’s population of 1.8 million.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade refuses to recognize it and encourages Serbs in Kosovo to challenge the authority of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, especially in the north where Serbs form the majority.
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have recurred in recent years, most recently in November after claims that several drones entered Serbian airspace from its breakaway province.
Northern Kosovo has been particularly on edge since November when hundreds of ethnic Serbs working in the Kosovo police, as well as in the judicial branch such as judges and prosecutors, walked out in protest against a controversial decision to ban Serbs living in Kosovo from using license plates issued by Kosovo. Belgrade.
Pristina abolished this policy, but mass strikes created a security vacuum in Kosovo.
Pristina tried to schedule local elections for December 18 in Serb-majority municipalities, but they were postponed after the announcement caused widespread outrage and the main Serbian political party said it would boycott it.
Then, on 10 December, a former policeman suspected of involvement in attacks against ethnic Albanian police officers was arrested, angering Serbs who erected roadblocks that crippled traffic around two border crossings.
Just hours after the barricades were erected, the Kosovo police said they had suffered three consecutive gun attacks on one of the roads leading to the border.
Kosovo’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter that the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, which has stepped up its presence and patrols in the area in recent months, said the latest wave of violence came on Sunday, when it fired in the direction of Latvian soldiers attached to the force.
Kafour said it was investigating the incident and added that “there were no injuries or material damage.”
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said last week that the situation with Kosovo was “on the brink of armed conflict”.