NATO urges Kosovo to ease tensions with Serbia

BRUSSELS, May 27 (Reuters) – NATO urged Kosovo on Saturday to ease tensions with Serbia, a day after its government forced access to municipal buildings to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas in the country’s north.

Clashes on Friday between Kosovan police and protesters against ethnic Albanian mayors prompted Serbia to put its army on full combat alert and move units closer to the border.

“We call on the organizations in Kosovo to immediately deescalate and call on all parties to resolve the situation through negotiations,” Ona Lungescu, a spokeswoman for the Atlantic military alliance, said in a Twitter post.

KFOR, the 3,800-strong NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, will remain vigilant, he said.

Things remained tense in the northern part of the country, with heavily armed police forces in armored vehicles guarding municipal buildings.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurdi earlier in the day defended the police actions that took away the new mayors.

“It is the right of those elected in a democratic election to take office without threats or intimidation. It is also the right of citizens to be served by elected officials,” Kurdi said on Twitter on Saturday.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Friday criticized Kurdi’s government for its actions in the north, which have “unnecessarily escalated tensions, (undermined our efforts to help mend relations between Kosovo and Serbia) and will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo.”

Nearly a decade after a war there, Serbs in Kosovo’s north have rejected Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital.

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Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of Kosovo’s population, with only Serbs in the majority in the north.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Additional reporting by Fatos Pedici in Pristina; Written by Fu Yun Che; Editing by Conor Humphreys

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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