A tense standoff involving police and heavily armed individuals in northern Kosovo unfolded on Sunday, just hours after an ambush incident claimed the life of one police officer and left another injured.
Veton Eljsani, the deputy commander of the Kosovo Police for the Northern region, described the situation, stating, “We see armed, uniformed people, heavy weapons, they are shooting at us, we are shooting,” as reported by CNN affiliate N1. Eljsani did not confirm the identity of the armed individuals.
This incident marks a significant escalation in an already volatile region. Kosovo, although predominantly Albanian, includes villages in the north, such as Banjska where the shootout occurred, that have a predominantly Serbian population.
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, but Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, viewing it as a breakaway region. Kosovo’s Serb population considers itself part of Serbia and regards Belgrade as its capital, rather than Pristina.
The initial incident occurred overnight from Saturday into Sunday when a border police unit discovered two unlicensed heavy trucks blocking the entrance to a bridge in Banjska, according to N1. Police units were dispatched to the area.
Upon arriving at the scene, police officers encountered resistance, leading to an exchange of gunfire. Tragically, one police officer lost their life, and another was injured during the confrontation. Kosovo police reported that they came under fire from “an arsenal of firearms,” including hand grenades and stun guns.
In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti described the incident in Banjska as a “terror attack” perpetrated by what he referred to as “Serbian criminal gangs.”
CNN reached out to Serbia’s Foreign Ministry for their response to the incident, but there has been no comment as of yet.
EU’s foreign policy chief, Joseph Borrell, issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attack and calling for de-escalation. He stated, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the hideous attack by an armed gang against Kosovo Police officers in Banjska/Banjskë in the north of Kosovo, which left one police officer dead. The responsible perpetrators must face justice.”
Borrell also expressed concern for the safety of innocent lives amid the ongoing hostilities in the vicinity of Banjska Monastery. He urged all parties to work towards de-escalating the situation.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have been on the rise in recent months, with violent protests erupting in May over controversial local elections. These clashes resulted in injuries to dozens of NATO peacekeepers at the time. Kosovo’s Serb population has been increasingly advocating for greater autonomy within Kosovo, leading to further strains in the region.