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Kosovo police enter northern village after shootout with gunmen that killed four people

JOSEVIK, Kosovo, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Kosovo police units in armored vehicles entered to secure and search a village in northern Kosovo on Monday, a day after four people were killed in a shootout between police and gunmen of Serbian ethnicity in the restless region.

The gunmen broke into the town of Banjska on Sunday, fighting the police and barricading themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery. Police retook the monastery on Sunday night after three attackers and a police officer were killed.

Armed police searched houses in the town on Monday looking for gunmen who had not fled, a police source told Reuters. On Monday morning the town was still closed to journalists.

On Monday, the United States condemned the attacks on police and urged the governments of Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a 90% ethnic Albanian majority, and Serbia to calm tensions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was monitoring the situation. “tense and potentially dangerous“Situation in Kosovo.

Although Kosovo Albanians make up the vast majority of Kosovo’s 1.8 million people, some 50,000 Serbs in the north reject Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and consider Belgrade their capital, more than two decades after a guerrilla uprising. Kosovo Albanian against Serbian rule.

“Since yesterday, nothing can be the same,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said at a ceremony honoring the Kosovo police officer who died in the incident.

“Afrim Bunjaku was killed during an attack against Kosovo police and against our own state by a group of people who were heavily armed and equipped, professionally trained and planned, politically supported, materially financed and logistically supported by Serbia,” Kurti said.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has denied Kurti’s accusations that Belgrade orchestrated the attack. He accuses Kurti of inciting violence by blocking the creation of an association of Serbian municipalities to give more autonomy to Serbs – approved by a previous Kosovo government in 2013 – and by launching frequent police raids in the north.

“We call on the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.

Vucic met with Russian ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko on Monday. Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally, also does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood and vetoed its bid to become a member of the United Nations.

“I have informed Botsan-Kharchenko that Albin Kurti is carrying out brutal ethnic cleansing with the help of the international community,” Vucic wrote on his Instagram page.

Tensions have risen since clashes in northern Kosovo in May, when more than 90 NATO peacekeepers and about 50 Serbian protesters were injured in northern Kosovo.

Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an agreement negotiated by the European Union a decade ago to create the association of autonomous municipalities. Kurti has said such a move would effectively divide Kosovo along ethnic lines.

Information from Fatos Bytyvi; additional information Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; written by Ivana Sekularac; edited by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich

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