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Kosovo Prime Minister Urges Calm Over Conflict with Serbia

  • Besim Abazi

A railroad worker stands by the first train decorated with letters that read "Kosovo is Serbian" written in twenty languages departing from Belgrade to Mitrovica, Kosovo, Jan. 14, 2017.

Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa urged for calm in relations with Serbia following a war of words that erupted between the two countries over the weekend.

In an exclusive interview with VOA's Albanian Service, Mustafa was responding to comments by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic who said his country “is ready to send troops to Kosovo to protect Serbian nationals, if necessary,” after a train painted with the words “Kosovo is Serbia” was stopped Saturday from entering Kosovo.

Mustafa called Nikolic's statement “irresponsible” and a threat “not only to Kosovo but also to the Balkans.”

“We do not want to respond to that threat with the same language,” said Mustafa. “We are interested in living in good neighborly relations with Serbia.”

The Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 30, 2015.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 30, 2015.

U.S.ambassador calls for 'restraint'

The United States ambassador in Pristina, Greg Delawie, said on Twitter that he was concerned about the train issue. Delawie called “for restraint from all parties,” adding that what was needed was “normalization not confrontation” between Serbia and Kosovo.

Nikolic said the two countries were on the verge of a conflict. He said Kosovo had shown it wanted war after it deployed special forces to prevent the train painted with Serbia's national colors from entering its territory.

Mustafa told journalists the train “sent a message of occupation.”

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic addresses the press after talks with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov, in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 28, 2016.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic addresses the press after talks with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov, in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 28, 2016.

Train returned to Belgrade

According to reports, Serbian officials accused Kosovo authorities of attempting to mine the railroad with bombs.

Kosovo officials strongly denounced the accusations, adding they found no explosives on the railway.

Saturday's ride was the first from Belgrade, the Serbian capital, to the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica since the 1998 war. Reports say the train later returned to Belgrade.

About 120,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants are ethnic Serbs.

Both countries seek EU membership

Both countries are seeking European Union membership to boost their struggling economies.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a decade after it split from Serbia. The country has been recognized by the United States and more than 110 countries, but not Serbia.

The split triggered a bloody yearlong conflict between Serbian and Albanian forces. Many of the 40,000 ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo have refused to recognize the ethnic Albanian majority’s 2008 secession from Serbia.

Ilir Iknomi, Isabela Cocoli and Aline Barros contributed to this report.

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