PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The NATO-led peacekeeping force on Friday called on both Kosovo and Serbia to return to the negotiating table to resolve their issues to prevent violence like the recent shootout between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and sent tensions soaring in the region.
Kosovo Force commander Maj. Gen. Angelo Michele Ristuccia called on both countries to “refrain from inflammatory and counterproductive rhetoric and help to create the necessary conditions for lasting security in Kosovo and across the region.”
Ristuccia told a news conference that KFOR fully supported European Union-facilitated dialogue to normalize their ties.
In February, the EU put forward a 10-point plan to end months of political crises. Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic gave their approval at the time, but with some reservations that haven’t been resolved.
“If the parties do not come back to the table … and do not find a common solution and do not negotiate for a political solution, I think this balance will become more fragile and volatile in the future,” Ristuccia said.
On Sept. 24, around 30 Serb gunmen killed a Kosovar police officer and then set up barricades in northern Kosovo before launching an hours-long gunbattle with Kosovo police. Three gunmen were killed.
NATO beefed up its peacekeeping presence in Kosovo by about 200 British troops after the crisis. More are expected to be deployed from Romania and other allies if the situation requires, Ristuccia said. KFOR is made up of around 4,500 troops from 27 nations.
NATO reported Friday that the first contingent of 200 British soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment arrived in Kosovo. Romania will send some 100 extra troops to bolster KFOR. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also said Berlin would consider adding to their present number at KFOR next year.
“These deployments are a prudent step to ensure KFOR has the forces it needs to fulfil its UN mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo,” NATO said in a statement.
The EU-facilitated dialogue, which began in 2011, has yielded few results.
Serbia and Kosovo have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-1999 war, which ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo, left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 — a move that Belgrade refuses to recognize.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Follow him at https://twitter.com/lsemini and Florent Bajrami at https://twitter.com/florent_bajrami