PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) - Kosovo police said Monday they have sent reinforcements to stop four senior Serb officials from visiting Kosovo’s north.
Serbia’s state Tanjug news agency said that Serbia’s defense minister; the chief Serb negotiator in the EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia; a senior aide of President Aleksandar Vucic; and the country’s culture minister were banned from entering Kosovo on Monday.
Serb officials earlier said they would hold the visit despite the decision by Kosovo authorities to prohibit their entry. Serb officials must seek official clearance from Kosovo’s authorities before any visit.
Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli warned on his Facebook page that none of the senior Serb officials had permission to enter Kosovo.
“Whoever enters Kosovo illegally will get arrested!” he wrote.
Kosovo police said that the increased forces in the north are only “implementing the government’s decision and have no other goals.”
Serbia’s culture minister, Vladan Vukosavljevic, said he was stopped just before noon at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, according to the Tanjug news agency.
He told the agency the move by the Kosovo authorities was “senseless and wrong.”
Kosovo police said Vukosavljevic had been allowed to enter Kosovo’s territory, but then did not continue, “deciding by himself to turn back to Serbia.”
Tanjug said Vukosavljevic was traveling to Kosovo to visit Serbian Orthodox Church monasteries located there.
“This decision presents a … huge setback and it does not contribute to the overall situation,” Vukosavljevic said.
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have soared recently as the EU presses for a compromise between the two foes on a number of issues.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade does not recognize the split and is seeking to maintain influence in Kosovo’s north, where most of the country’s Serb minority is located.
It was not be the first tense moment on Kosovo’s border with Serbia, which is controlled by NATO-led troops since an intervention in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. In January 2017 a Serb promotional train ride, which would have been the first from Belgrade to Kosovo’s northern town of Mitrovica since the 1998-99 war, was turned back by Kosovo authorities.
Last week EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini invited Vucic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, to a meeting in Brussels to discuss “the preparations of a comprehensive agreement on normalization of relations” and progress in the implementation of the past agreements.
This version corrects Vucic’s title from prime minister to president.
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