Kosovo police officers killed in ‘horrific attack’ by 30 armed thugs

Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has pointed the finger at neighbouring Serbia for a deadly attack on police officers. The move threatens to further strain relations between the two historic adversaries, and it comes at a critical juncture in their European Union-facilitated negotiations aimed at normalising ties.

The violent episode unfolded on a quiet Sunday morning in the village of Banjska, nestled within the Leposavic municipality, approximately 55 kilometres (35 miles) north of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Prime Minister Kurti recounted the harrowing events, describing a group of “masked professionals armed with heavy weapons” opening fire on a police patrol at the early hour of 3am (1am GMT).

According to reports from Kosovo police, the assailants deployed two unmarked trucks to block a bridge at the entrance to the village. Responding to this provocation, three police units were dispatched to remove the blockade, but they soon found themselves under a hail of gunfire from multiple directions, including the use of hand grenades and explosives.

The police successfully repelled the attack and rushed two wounded officers to a hospital located in southern Mitrovica. One of the officers could not be saved upon arrival, while the other remained in stable condition.

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Adding to the turmoil, the Kosovo Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which presides over several monasteries in this former Serbian province, reported a disturbing incident. They claimed that a group of masked individuals, riding in an armoured vehicle, forcibly breached the entrance gate of the Banjska Monastery, located within the same village.

The historic tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have deep roots, spanning decades. Their protracted conflict in 1998-99 resulted in a devastating loss of over 10,000 lives, with the majority being Kosovo Albanians. Despite Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, Belgrade has adamantly refused to acknowledge its sovereignty.

Following a meeting of Kosovo’s Security Council on Sunday, Prime Minister Kurti somberly referred to the day as a “sad one” for Kosovo, while paying tribute to the fallen police officer, Afrim Bunjaku. During the meeting, Kurti unveiled a series of photographs that showcased unmarked four-wheel-drive vehicles and an armoured personnel carrier, none of which were affiliated with the Kosovo police. He asserted that the ongoing exchange of gunfire was instigated by a group of at least 30 highly trained, masked, and heavily armed individuals.

Prime Minister Kurti minced no words, stating: “It is clear that these uniformed individuals, numbering at least 30, constitute a well-organised professional unit that has come with the intent to engage in conflict within Kosovo.” He urged the individuals responsible for the attack to surrender themselves to Kosovar authorities.

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The majority of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority resides in four municipalities around Mitrovica in the north.

Local reports, as relayed by Kosovo Serb media, painted a grim picture of Banjska residents being jolted awake by the sound of gunfire and explosions during the night, likening the ordeal to a “mini-war.”

Serbian media outlets reported blockades on local roads and border crossings with Serbia, while Prime Minister Kurti took to Facebook, alleging that “organised crime, politically, financially, and logistically supported from Belgrade, is attacking our state.”

Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani, currently attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, emphatically condemned the attack. She said: “Such attacks are further evidence of the destabilising influence of criminal groups with ties to Serbia, which have long been responsible for sowing discord in Kosovo and the broader region.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, decried the attack as “heinous” and urged a thorough investigation. Mr Borrell stressed the imperative need for an immediate end to such attacks, underlining the presence of the EU’s rule of law mission, EULEX, as a secondary security responder, closely cooperating with local authorities and KFOR.

Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s envoy for the talks, joined in condemning the “horrific attack” and reiterated the urgency of a swift return to dialogue to defuse the escalating tensions between the two nations.

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