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Serbia Puts Troops On High Alert Along Border With Kosovo Amid Recognition Standoff

Serbian special police forces in Kraljevo, 80 kilometers from the Jarinje border with Kosovo, on September 21.
Serbian special police forces in Kraljevo, 80 kilometers from the Jarinje border with Kosovo, on September 21.

Serbia has raised the combat readiness of its troops on the border with Kosovo as a four-day flare-up over mutual recognition of state authority bedevils the Balkan neighbors, with Serbia's president suggesting there are limits to what Belgrade will "tolerate."

The new frictions have dampened hopes that a decade of EU-mediated efforts to normalize relations between the two former Yugoslav entities will achieve a breakthrough anytime soon.

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo have been blocking the border since Kosovar authorities on September 20 began strictly enforcing a new policy of removing Serbian license plates from incoming vehicles and replacing them with temporary local plates.

Serbian authorities for years have insisted on the removal of Kosovar license plates that cross their mutual border.

Pristina this week deployed special troops to several major border checkpoints to maintain order as it invoked the new restriction.

But ethnic Serb protesters have blocked two crossings in the north of Kosovo, at Jarinje and Brnjak, as well as roads leading to them.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on September 22 his country and Serbia should start recognizing each other's car license plates, adding, “Neither our state or citizens nor Kosovar Serbs or Serbia are interested in incidents and escalation."

But Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said on a visit to the Raska and Novi Pazar garrisons on September 23 that Serbian troops there were on high alert as the standoff persisted.

Stefanovic was accompanied by the chief of the Serbian General Staff, General Milan Mojsilovic.

Kosovar officials have disputed Serbian media reports suggesting ethnic Serb protesters were beaten by police.

Kosovo Police spokesman Baki Kelani said that apart from the presence of barricades reinforced by gravel, the situation was largely calm.

On Serbian television, President Aleksandar Vucic was quoted as saying he was "concerned" and warning against violence targeting Serbs in Kosovo.

“We have made clear what are the boundaries by which we will tolerate violence by [Kosovar Prime Minister] Albin Kurti and his special forces," Vucic said on September 23. “Both the Europeans and Americans know that. We have said very precisely what our next moves will be, and in which order they will be made."

Ethnic Albanian guerrillas fought a 1998-99 war for independence for Kosovo and its nearly 2 million inhabitants from Serbia, now home to around 7 million people.

Serbia refuses to recognize the 2008 declaration of sovereignty by its former province, whose independence is recognized by around 110 countries but whose presence in some international organizations is still prevented by the impasse.

With reporting by AP