By Fatos Bytyci and Aleksandar Vasovic
PRISTINA/BELGRADE (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – The main political party representing Serbs in northern Kosovo declared three days of mourning on Tuesday for those killed in a firefight at a monastery with Kosovo police, after the worst violence in years in the disputed area.
Kosovo authorities say around 30 heavily armed Serbs stormed into the village of Banjska on Sunday, fighting police and barricading themselves in the Serbian Orthodox monastery. Police retook the monastery on Sunday evening after three attackers and a police officer were killed.
The firefight has raised new international concerns about the stability of Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority and declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and NATO intervention in 1999.
Belgrade has never recognized the independence of its former province. About 50,000 Serbs from the north reject the government in Pristina.
No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack or explain the gunmen’s motives.
Kosovo has accused Serbia of supporting armed militants; Serbia claims that Kosovo is responsible for mistreatment of residents in the Serb-majority area.
The Serbian List party said that during the mourning period from Tuesday to Thursday all performances will be canceled and flags lowered to half-staff.
Serbia itself declared Wednesday a day of mourning “due to the tragic events”, without explicitly supporting the gunmen or their grievances.
“Serbia has no problem saying that it condemns the murder of an Albanian (Kosovo) policeman, but we cannot remain silent, deaf and blind in the face of the persecution and killing of the Serbian people in Kosovo,” he said in Belgrade Defense Minister Milos Vucevic after meeting his His Norwegian counterpart Bjoern Arild Gram.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy on Tuesday in Belgrade about the incident. He said he asked that the international peacekeeping force KFOR “take care of all security issues in northern Kosovo instead of Kurti’s (Kosovar Prime Minister Albin) police.”
Kosovo police said Tuesday they arrested two more suspects at a hotel in the north of the Serb-majority country and seized a cache of weapons including assault rifles and a heavy machine gun.
Police also searched houses in Banjska on Monday and showed off weapons and equipment they said they had seized.
Police also released drone footage that they said showed a group of armed men resting inside the monastery compound on Sunday.
One of them was said to be Milan Radojcic, a Serbian politician from Kosovo and one of the leaders of the Serbian List party.
Neither Radojcic nor the party could be reached by phone or email to comment on the video. The party has not released any comments on the incident other than a declaration of mourning.
RockedBuzz via Reuters was unable to independently verify the identity of the man highlighted in the video. RockedBuzz via Reuters confirmed the location was Banjska Monastery, but was unable to independently verify the date the video was filmed.
The Serbian List was the dominant Serbian party in Kosovo’s parliament before northern Serbs and those loyal to Belgrade boycotted Kosovo’s institutions nearly a year ago. It is closely allied with Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party.
Two Serbs captured in the firefight appeared in court on Tuesday for a hearing in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.
Dejan A. Vasic, the lawyer representing shooting suspect Dusan Maksimovic, said he plans to appeal the 30-day detention given to his client.
The court said a third wounded suspected gunman had already appeared before a judge in hospital, where he was accused of taking part in a terrorist attack and held in custody for a month.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Aleksandar Vasovic; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Christina Fincher and Alison Williams)