BELGRADE: Serbia’s Prime Minister said Wednesday she “hoped” Belgrade would not have to resort to war in response to Kosovo’s moves to create its own army, in the latest provocative comment lobbed between the neighbours.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke away in a guerilla war, is expected to vote next week on whether to create its own military.
Since the end of the 1998-99 war that effectively cleaved it from Belgrade, Kosovo has relied on NATO-led forces to ensure security.
The plans to create its own military force have outraged Serbia, which still refuses to recognise Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration.
“I hope that we will never have to use our army, but at this moment it is one of the options on the table since we cannot watch a new ethnic cleansing” of Serbs, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters.
A day earlier Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Pristina of trying to “drive the Serb people out of Kosovo” by pushing ahead with the army.
Around 120,000 ethnic Serbs remain in Kosovo after the grisly war between pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serbian forces.
Most Kosovo Serbs remain loyal to Belgrade and are against the creation of the army.
They have also recently protested against a 100 percent tariff Pristina slapped on Serbian and Bosnian goods last month.
Pristina says it is revenge for Belgrade’s efforts to undermine Kosovo on the world stage by shutting it out of global organisations.
According to Kosovo customs spokesman Adriatik Stavileci, the tariff has reduced border trade significantly.
Only 48 trucks from Serbia and Bosnia have entered over the past two weeks, compared to 100 daily before the tariff, he said.
Although Serbia is Kosovo’s biggest regional trading partner, so far for there has been no significant shortage of goods or price surges.
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said local companies are increasing production.
Supply stocks, imports from Albania and Macedonia, but also smuggling across the border are helping keep shelves full, according to experts.