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Intel Brief: Rise in Kosovo - Serbia Tensions

Date: 25/09/2023


  • North Kosovo

Who’s involved:

  • Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Kosovar police

What happened?

  • On 24/09/2023 two patrolling Kosovar police officers were ambushed near Banjska, on the Kosovo-Serbian border. “The police unit was attacked from different positions by 30 gunmen armed with heavy weapons, including grenades”.

  • After the attackers murdered one police officer and injured the other, they fled to a nearby Orthodox Christian monastery. They barricaded themselves in and they fought gun battles for hours. At least three assailants were shot dead and one attacker was arrested during the battle. Another four civilian suspects were arrested because they had radio equipment and weapons.

  • On 25/09/2023, Kosovar police units moved in armed vehicles to the village Banjska hoping to arrest the gunmen. The siege at the monastery has ended, but whether all gunmen were caught is unclear.

  • Both Serbia and Kosovo have blamed each other for the violence. Albin Kurti, prime minister of Kosovo, called it a terrorist attack and accused the Serbian state of sponsoring the gunmen. He sees the attack as criminal and terrorism.

  • The President of Serbia, Vucic, called this action a rebellion against Prime Minister Albin Kurti, as Kurti refused to form an association of Serb municipalities in north Kosovo. Vucic stated “Serbia will never recognize independent Kosovo, you can kill us all.”

  • The attack took place more than a week after the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo had talks on improving their relations. They failed to come to an agreement during EU-mediated negotiations in Brussels.


  • The terrorist attacks in the north of Kosovo mark a serious increase in tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. Both countries have blamed the other for the violence and the rhetoric has heightened. This comes as EU-led negotiations to normalize political relations between the countries have stalled.

  • The relations between Serbia and Kosovo are highly complex and strained. The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo launched a rebellion in 1998 to throw off Serbian rule. The violence of the conflict led to a NATO intervention and peacekeeping in 1999. The majority of Kosovo is ethnic Albanian, though 5 percent of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people are ethnic Serbs and concentrated in the north of the country. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence after succeeding from Serbia in 2008. Today, it is recognized as an independent state by the U.S. and EU, and more than 100 countries. Russia and China, as well as five European states, do not recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty and/or are stalling Kosovo’s EU membership.

  • Unrest in the region intensified after elections in April 2023, when ethnic Albanian mayors took office in the Serb-majority northern part of Kosovo, resulting in violent clashes between Serb protesters and NATO peacekeepers. The Serb majority had boycotted local elections as a form of protest to claim their autonomy. The mayoral election had a low turnout, with only 3.5% voting in the elections.

  • Diplomatic efforts to normalize political relations have failed to produce a lasting settlement between Serbia and Kosovo. The EU and U.S. are pressing both governments to sign a compromise proposal to end Belgrade’s lobbying against international recognition of Kosovo in return for Kosovo’s concession to form an association of 10 Serb-majority municipalities. The association’s establishment was originally a part of the 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement but failed as it was declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court.

  • The 4,500 NATO peacekeepers stationed in the country are on alert and have increased their presence on the Kosovo-Serbian border. Serbia is unlikely to start a full-scale military mobilization against Kosovo because of the presence of NATO troops and because of Russia’s current lack of support for its allies.


The attack on police officers in north Kosovo marks an acute heightening in tension in the country. First, it raises questions over the origins of the military equipment used. Second, it presents a serious threat to the political normalization of ties between Serbia and Kosovo, with both sides accusing each other of inciting the violence. Both Pristina and Belgrade need to normalize ties to gain access to the EU but without a breakthrough in talks, there will be further instability and the potential for violent clashes. Despite a spike in tensions, a Serbian military mobilization against Kosovo is unlikely without significant support from Russia. The presence of NATO peacekeepers also mitigates the threat of military escalation between the two countries.


Intel Brief Rise in Serbia Kosovo Tensions
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