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Kosovo Wants EU, NATO to Warn Serbia Against Escalation

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci gives an interview for REUTERS in his office in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Jan. 16, 2017.
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci gives an interview for REUTERS in his office in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Jan. 16, 2017.

Kosovo's president called on the European Union and NATO on Thursday to warn Serbia against inciting a new conflict in Kosovo and the Balkans.

President Hashim Thaci's request followed a Brussels meeting with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and the prime ministers of the two countries, which was convened by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

In a statement Thursday, Thaci accused Belgrade of inciting inter-ethnic hatred in northern Kosovo. Tensions started to build there in December when ethnic Serbs erected a wall at a bridge, saying it was to prevent landslides. The barrier was seen as a provocation by the ethnic Albanian majority.

On Thursday, police said 200 ethnic Serbs gathered in northern Mitrovica, a Serb minority area, allegedly after reports of increased presence of Kosovo police there. Police said security was "generally stable.''

"I again invite Serbia to leave aside such practices that do not serve the process of reconciliation and normalization of our relations,'' said Thaci.

Nikolic, a staunch pro-Russian politician, has warmed of an armed intervention if Serbs are "jeopardized'' in Kosovo.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksadar Vucic held an urgent meeting with Kosovo Serbs Thursday night - attended by Serbia's defense minister - on the Serbian side of the border with Kosovo. Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned a pro-EU reformer, said the Kosovo government in Pristina is conducting a "dirty campaign.''

"Don't be caught, peace is our interest,'' he said.

Mogherini has urged the countries to normalize ties "both to preserve peace and advance toward the European Union.''

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has not recognized it as a separate country.

Serbia, backed by Russia, has sought to maintain influence in Kosovo's north, where most of the country's Serb minority lives. Thousands of NATO-led troops continue to control Kosovo's territory since a three-month air war in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Tensions between Pristina and Belgrade increased in early January with the detention of Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovo prime minister, on a Serbian warrant. Days later, a nationalist Serbian train with signs reading "Kosovo is Serbia'' was turned back from the border with Kosovo.