Kosovo was observing a day of mourning Monday, following the death of a Kosovar Albanian police officer killed by Serbian gunmen, who then barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery north of the capital, Pristina.
It was not immediately clear who supports the approximately 30 gunmen who were dressed in combat uniforms when they used an armored vehicle to storm the monastery in Banjska and engage in a standoff Sunday with Kosovo police.
Most of the gunmen were able to escape the monastery Sunday evening, but at least three of them were killed and two arrested.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed the other for the clash.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the violence in a statement Monday.
“The perpetrators of this crime must be held accountable via a transparent investigative process. We call on the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions or rhetoric which could further inflame tensions and to immediately work in coordination with international partners to de-escalate the situation, ensure security and rule of law, and return to the EU-facilitated Dialogue,” he said.
Separately, Caroline Ziadeh, the head of UNMIK, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, called for the attackers “to be held accountable.” Ziadeh made her comments on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Serbia and Kosovo, its former province, have clashed for decades. A 1998–1999 war between them left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians.
Banjska is located in northern Kosovo, where tensions between Serbs and Albanians remain high. Northern Kosovo is composed mainly of Serbs.
“Tension has been building in that part of the country for quite a long time. We've seen previous bouts of violence associated with the placement of a series of mayors in the north elected by a very, very small percentage of the electorate, Serbs in the north, boycotting the last election,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA.
In April, four Albanian mayors were elected to posts in northern Kosovo in a vote boycotted by Serbs.
“So I do think that this kind of escalation is not that surprising. It does, however, seriously raise the risk of a further spread of violence,” Kupchan said.
Kupchan said that he expects the West to have an increased presence in the region in order to prevent further escalation, especially given Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“It may drive home to Pristina and to Belgrade, that we are not that far away from escalations and violence, and that both parties need to get back to the diplomatic track. Both parties need to exercise restraint before things spin out of control,” he said.
David Kanin, an adjunct professor with the Johns Hopkins University and a former CIA senior analyst, sees the issue differently.
“The attack makes it less likely that anything is going to happen. And that hurts American and European diplomacy, which already has been failing. Again, the West’s policy has been failing on this for quite a while,” he told VOA, referring to EU-mediated, U.S.-supported dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that has failed to yield results so far.
Meanwhile, in Russia, a Kremlin spokesman said it was monitoring what he called the tense and potentially dangerous situation in Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move. Russia has stood by Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosovo.
VOA's Albanian Service contributed to this report.