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U.S. Says Not Consulted Before Kosovo Declared Serbian Groups ‘Terrorist’

The United States says Kosovo’s government did not consult Washtington before its decision this week to declare two Serbian groups “terrorist” organizations amid ongoing tensions with minority Serbs in northern Kosovo and with neighboring Serbia.

In a statement to RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, the U.S. State Department condemned the recent violence that injured dozens of NATO KFOR peacekeepers in clashes with protesting Serbs and encouraged accountability but said Pristina’s move “should have been coordinated.”

“This decision should have been coordinated with Kosovo’s closest international partners, including those who have a primary responsibility for ensuring Kosovo’s stability,” the State Department said in response to RFE/RL questions.

“We again urge Kosovo to refrain from unilateral steps as we work with all parties to resolve the current crisis.”

Three Kosovar police officers returned home on June 26 after a court in the central Serbian city of Kraljevo ordered their release following their detention by Serbian authorities earlier this month along the border between Serbia and Kosovo.

The officers’ detentions marked an escalation weeks after clashes in three Kosovar Serb-majority municipalities in late May.

Pristina announced on June 29 that it had declared two groups — Civil Protection and the Brigada Sever (Northern Brigade) — terrorist organizations.

It said their members were behind the unrest in northern Kosovo.

“Based on the assessments of the Kosovo security institutions, the illegal formation Civil Protection and its components, and the Northern Brigade represent a serious and direct threat to the constitutional order and security of Kosovo,” Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said.

Without providing evidence, he said those groups carried out actions “with terrorist elements” such as armed attacks on members of the Kosovo Police, the European Union’s Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), and KFOR soldiers.

Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said the designation “will not affect anyone who had not committed a criminal offense before the declaration of [Civil Protection and Northern Brigade] as terrorist organizations,” including previous members.

The State Department statement said, “Those responsible for the attacks [on KFOR peacekeepers] should be held accountable, following due process and with full transparency.”

Kosovo and Serbia’s Western partners including the United States and the European Union have urged an immediate deescalation of the situation, including through new elections and the withdrawal of police from municipal buildings at the center of a dispute over mayoral seats.

Pristina tried to forcibly install ethnic Albanian mayors in four municipalities with ethnic Serbian majorities after by-elections that were boycotted by local Serbs, resulting in overall turnout of under four pecent.

The mayors’ seats had been vacated in protest in November 2022 amid a dispute over cross-border documents.

Serbia does not recognize its former province’s 2008 declaration of independence and supports and finances a “parallel system” in many aspects of life for Serbs in northern Kosovo.

Pristina describes that system as illegal and an infringement of Kosovar sovereignty.

The European Union and United States have encouraged talks between Belgrade and Pristina for over a decade aimed at a road map to normalize Serbian-Kosovar relations.

Source: RFE/RL