Dozens of Serb gunmen dressed in combat uniforms attacked an Orthodox monastery in Banjska, Kosovo, near the border with Serbia. The assailants killed a Kosovar Albanian police officer before storming the monastery, leading to gun battles that resulted in the deaths of three attackers. The incident has further escalated tensions between Serbia and Kosovo as they strive to normalize their relations.
Kosovo police have surrounded the village of Banjska, where the monastery is located, and the gunfire is ongoing. The Kosovo Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church reported that the temple of the monastery was locked down after the gunmen stormed it. Prime Minister Albin Kurti stated that the attack was supported by Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic denied any involvement from Belgrade and claimed that the gunmen were local Kosovo Serbs who opposed Kurti’s government. Vucic condemned the killing of the Kosovo policeman but blamed the clash on the “brutal” pressure exerted on Kosovo Serbs by the Kosovo government.
The 1998-99 war between Serbia and Kosovo resulted in over 10,000 deaths, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but Serbia has refused to recognize it. Recent negotiations between Kurti and Vucic to normalize ties ended acrimoniously.
The Kosovo diocese reported that the gunmen, armed with heavy weapons, stormed the monastery in an armored vehicle, breaking down the locked gate and firing guns. Prime Minister Kurti described the assailants as an organized professional unit and called on them to surrender to Kosovar authorities.
The situation remains tense, with ongoing gunfire attacks against police units. One police officer was killed, and two others were injured during the armed confrontation. Kosovo police said the attack began when three police units were dispatched to a bridge at the entrance of the village, which had been blocked by trucks. The police officers came under fire from hand grenades and bombs before the armed men stormed the monastery.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned the attack and called for the responsible perpetrators to face justice. The EU’s rule of law mission, EULEX, has representatives on the ground and is in close contact with authorities and the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.