Serbia has placed its military on the highest level of alert as tensions continue to rise in northern Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo authorities backed by NATO.
“The president of Serbia, as the commander-in-chief, has ordered tonight that the Serbian Armed Forces be at the highest level of combat readiness, meaning the preparedness to use their armed potential,” Serbia’s Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said on Monday, according to RT.
Officials in Belgrade say that Serbia’s armed forces are ready to intervene in Kosovo to protect the ethnic Serb population. Tensions have been high in northern Kosovo since the summer when Pristina tried to ban license plates from Serbia. Ethnic Serbs in the area reject the plan as they don’t recognize the government in Pristina and still use Belgrade-issued documents.
Earlier this month, Serbs in northern Kosovo erected roadblocks in response to the arrest of a former ethnic Serb police officer, and Pristina has been calling for NATO troops to dismantle the barriers.
If NATO doesn’t clear the barriers, Kosovo suggested it will deploy its own forces to do so. Tensions show no sign of waning as ethnic Serbs erected more roadblocks on Tuesday.
Pristina has increased its police presence in the north, and NATO said it has stepped up patrols in the area. “Since October we’ve been reinforcing our presence, including with additional troops & patrols in northern Kosovo this week,” NATO’s Kosovo Force, known as KFOR, wrote on Twitter on December 16.
There are about 3,700 NATO troops deployed in Kosov under KFOR, including over 600 US troops. NATO has had a presence in the region since its 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia that resulted in the creation of the state of Kosovo, which formally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Many countries don’t recognize Kosovo as a country, including Russia and China.