A group of about 30 “heavily armed” men opened fire on Kosovo police in a northern Kosovo village early Sunday, killing one officer, and the same armed individuals assaulted a neighboring Serbian Orthodox monastery, according to Kosovo officials.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla condemned “Serbia-sponsored criminals” for the attack on police in the area and the storming of the monastery.
The Serbian Orthodox Church Diocese of Raska-Prizren said masked men forced their way into the monastery near Banjska in an armoured vehicle. Priests and pilgrims locked themselves inside the monastery’s temple for safety, the diocese said, adding that gunfire was occasionally heard and that the armed men were moving around the monastery’s courtyard.
It couldn’t immediately be determined if anybody was wounded or killed at the monastery.
There was no immediate reaction on the incident from Serbian officials. President Vucic was expected to give a statement soon.
“There are at least 30 people heavily armed. They are professionals, with military and police background,” said Kurti, who earlier described the group as ‘terrorists’.
He said the attackers were surrounded by Kosovo police at the monastery who urged them to surrender.
Local media reported that border police had closed two key border crossings with Serbia.
Head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Caroline Ziadeh, expressed deep sorrow over the loss of life of the police officer and condemned the incident in the strongest terms.
Tensions have been running run high in Kosovo, the former Serbian province, since clashes in May, when more than 90 NATO peacekeeping soldiers and some 50 Serb protesters were injured in northern Kosovo.
Ethnic Albanians form more than 90% of the population in Kosovo, with Serbs being the majority only in its northern region where a Serb-majority municipalities association is planned.
NATO troops, along with members of the EU police force EULEX and Kosovo police, could be seen patrolling the road leading to Banjska after the incident, according to a Reuters reporter.
EU-sponsored talks on normalising relations between the two former wartime foes Serbia and Kosovo stalled last week, with the bloc blaming Kurti for failing to set up the association of Serb-majority municipalities which would give them more autonomy.