Serbia says number of troops on Kosovo border 'back to normal'

Belgrade claims number of soldiers down to 4,500 amid tensions in the area

An armed Kosovo Police officer patrols the village of Banjska. EPA
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The number of Serbian troops deployed near the border with Kosovo is back to normal, the Serbian army chief said on Monday, days after Washington urged Belgrade to pull back a “large military deployment” from the area.

A deadly clash in Kosovo about a week ago triggered one of the gravest escalations in the former breakaway province in years.

The number of troops posted on the border has been cut from 8,350 to 4,500, Serbian army chief of staff Gen Milan Mojsilovic said.

“It means the regular number of troops” in the area, he added. “The operational regime of the units … tasked with securing the administrative line with Kosovo is back to normal.”

Around 30 gunmen were involved in a shoot-out with police in a northern Kosovo village in late September, killing one officer.

It was one of the most serious escalations in years in the former Serbian province with an ethnic Albanian majority population.

Three Serb gunmen were also killed in the hours-long shoot-out in the village of Banjska on September 24, after they ambushed a patrol and latter barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery near the northern border with Serbia.

On Friday, the US called on Belgrade to pull its forces back from the border with Kosovo after detecting what it called an unprecedented Serbian military build-up.

Serbia had sent sophisticated tanks and artillery to the frontier after the deadly clashes in northern Kosovo last week, the White House warned.

Gen Mojsilovic on Monday voiced surprise over the “deep concern of some” regarding Serbian forces deployed during what he called a “security crisis”.

In December 2022 and May 2023, during “similar security crises”, Serbia deployed 14,000 troops in the area, he said.

At the time, unlike a week ago, they were on the “highest level of alert”, Gen Mojsilovic added.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade, as well as its allies in Beijing and Moscow, have refused to recognise.

Kosovo has long had strained relations between its ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority, which have escalated in recent months in Kosovo's north.

Despite years of EU-sponsored talks between Kosovo and Serbia to establish ties, little progress has been achieved.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 5:23 PM