BELGRADE: Serbia’s Prime Minister said Wednesday she “hoped” Belgrade would not have to resort to war in response to Kosovo’s moves to create its own army, in the latest fiery salvo between the neighbors.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke away in a guerilla war, is expected to vote next week on whether to transform its lightly-armed emergency force into a national army.
Since the end of the 1998-99 war that effectively cleaved it from Belgrade, Kosovo has relied on NATO-led forces to ensure security.
The plans to create its own military force have enraged Serbia, which still refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration.
“I hope that we will never have to use our army, but at this moment it is one of the options on the table,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters.
NATO also weighed in from Brussels, with its chief Jens Stoltenberg warning Kosovo the move was “ill-timed” and may carry “serious repercussions.”
A day earlier Serbia’s president Aleksander Vucic accused Pristina of trying to “drive out” Kosovo’s 120,000 Serb community, which is concentrated in the north, with its army plans.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj responded Wednesday saying it was a “pure lie” that the army would be directed in the Serb-dominated north, which has never fully submitted to Pristina’s authority.
“The army will not be for the north of Kosovo... The army will be used to help NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.
More than 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, were killed in the 1998-1999 independence war, which ended when a NATO bombing forced Serb troops to withdraw from Kosovo.
The neighbors have never normalized relations and tensions have been running especially high since Pristina slapped Serbian goods with a 100 percent tariff last month.
Pristina said it was revenge for Belgrade’s efforts to undermine Kosovo on the world stage by shutting it out of global organizations.
According to Kosovo customs spokesman Adriatik Stavileci, the tariff has reduced border trade significantly.
Only 48 trucks from Serbia and Bosnia have entered over the past two weeks, compared to 100 daily before the tariff, he said.
Although Serbia is Kosovo’s biggest regional trading partner, so far for there has been no significant shortage of goods or price surges.
Supply stocks, imports from Albania and Macedonia, but also smuggling across the border are helping keep shelves full, according to experts.