NATO builds up forces in Kosovo as tensions with Serbia rise

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NATO said on Friday it is increasing its peacekeeping presence in northern Kosovo as a result of escalating tensions with neighboring Serbia, as the U.S. called on Serbia to withdraw a military build-up on the border with Kosovo.

The heightening of tensions comes after about 30 heavily armed Serbs stormed the northern Kosovo village of Banjska last Sunday. A Kosovo policeman and three of the attackers were killed in gun battles.

“We need NATO because the border with Serbia is very long and the Serbian army has been recently strengthening its capacities,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told the Associated Press. “They have a lot of military equipment from both the Russian Federation and China,” he said.

“These people want to turn back time,” Kurti said. “They are in search of a time machine. They want to turn the clock back by 30 years. But that is not going to happen,” he said.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade and Moscow have refused to recognize it.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby confirmed a “large military deployment” of Serbian tanks and artillery was on the border. He described the build-up as “a very destabilizing development” and called on Serbia to withdraw these forces.

The White House also “underscored the readiness of the United States to work with our allies to ensure KFOR [NATO’s Kosovo Force] remained appropriately resourced to fulfill its mission,” according to a readout of a call between the U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Kurti.

Kirby added that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had called Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to urge “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

The U.K. also said it was sending troops to support NATO’s peacekeepers on the ground.

Milan Radoicic, the vice president of Serb List, the main Kosovo-Serb political party, resigned on Friday after admitting to setting up the armed group responsible for the attack.