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Gunmen raid Kosovo village and Serbian Orthodox monastery; police officer murdered

NORTH MITROVICA, Kosovo, Sept 24 (Reuters) – A group of about 30 “heavily armed” men opened fire on Kosovo police in a village in northern Kosovo early on Sunday, killing a police officer, and the men themselves Armed men also broke into a nearby Serbian Orthodox church. monastery in the first great regional violence since MayKosovo officials said.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla blamed the attack on police in the town and the assault on the monastery on “Serbian-sponsored criminals.”

The Raska-Prizren Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church said masked men forced their way into the monastery near Banjska in an armored vehicle. Priests and pilgrims locked themselves inside the monastery temple for safety, the diocese said, adding that gunshots were occasionally heard and armed men moved around the monastery courtyard.

It could not immediately be determined if anyone was injured or killed at the monastery.

There was no immediate reaction to the incident from Serbian officials. President Vucic was expected to make a statement soon.

“There are at least 30 heavily armed people. They are professionals, with military and police experience,” said Kurti, who previously described the group as “terrorists.”

He said the attackers were surrounded by Kosovo police at the monastery, who urged them to surrender.

Local media reported that border police had closed two key border crossings with Serbia.

The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Caroline Ziadeh, expressed deep regret over the death of the police officer and strongly condemned the incident.

Tensions have been rising in Kosovo, the former Serbian province, since confrontations in May, when more than 90 NATO peacekeepers and about 50 Serbian protesters were injured in northern Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of Kosovo’s population, and Serbs are a majority only in the northern region, where an association of Serb-majority municipalities is planned.

According to a Reuters journalist, NATO troops, along with members of the EU police force EULEX and Kosovo police, could be seen patrolling the road leading to Banjska after the incident.

EU-sponsored talks on normalizing relations between the two former war enemies, Serbia and Kosovo, stalled last week, with the bloc blaming Kurti for failing to establish the association of Serbian-majority municipalities that would give them more autonomy. read more

Fatos Bytyci Information; written by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Jamie Freed and Bernadette Baum

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