10/03/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/03/2023 15:23
Speech delivered by Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell
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Mr President, Honourable Members, State Secretary [for the European Union of Spain, Pascual Navarros Rios],
On 24 September 2023, Kosovo Police has been attacked by heavily armed individuals, in the midst of a major weapons' smuggling operation, leaving one policeman dead and three wounded. The armed perpetrators barricaded themselves in the Monastery of Banjska. In the exchange of fire with the Kosovo police, three assailants were killed, some wounded, and the rest fled. Some of those [injured] were treated in the hospital in Novi Pazar in Serbia. The scale of the operation is unprecedented. The quantity of confiscated weapons is massive and this raises serious concerns. This is a strong alarm bell that the situation in the north of Kosovo is extremely serious.
Immediately on that Sunday, High Representative/Vice-President Borrell called Prime Minister [of Kosovo, Alban] Kurti and President [of Serbia, Aleksandar] Vučić and issued a statement and a press release, where he condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack. He also called for restoring the calm and stability, for the assailants to surrender immediately and for the 49 pilgrims at Banjska Monastery to be able to leave safely.
The European Union's Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) arrived at the scene rapidly and, in line with its mandate, monitored the police operation and escorted the pilgrims safely out of Kosovo.
The European Union is closely following the ongoing investigations and expects that the perpetrators be brought to justice and Serbia to fully cooperate, including in preventing smuggling through the Administrative Boundary Line.
In parallel to the investigations, it is important that both Kosovo and Serbia refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation. In this context, the rhetoric from Belgrade in relation to 24 September is very concerning, as well as the manner in which the day of mourning was observed.
What is already clear at this stage is that this operation indicates a serious military build-up and constitutes a major escalation, which goes against the European Union's repeated calls for de-escalation in the north of Kosovo.
Swift de-escalation is urgent more than ever and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice. The attack should not serve as an excuse to divert attention from the Dialogue on the normalisation. We are also concerned over the Serbian military build-up in the south of Serbia.
Swiftly holding early local elections in the north of Kosovo remains crucial to help defuse the tensions.
The European Union calls on all political actors, at all levels of governance, in both Kosovo and Serbia, to engage constructively in the process leading to early local elections in the north of Kosovo, to avoid further escalatory steps and support progress in the EU-facilitated Dialogue.
We are at a crucial junction in the EU-facilitated Dialogue. Earlier this year, Kosovo and Serbia reached an Agreement on the Path to Normalisation, which offers a clear platform for normalising their relations. The obligations stemming from this Agreement remain valid and binding.
The negotiations phase ended in March. The focus now must be on implementation and on taking the process of normalisation forward.
At the last High-level Dialogue [meeting] on 14 September, neither Party demonstrated a genuine commitment to advance the normalisation process, despite continued intense efforts by the European Union. Therefore, both are in violation of their Dialogue obligations. They must act with restraint and return to the implementation of their respective Dialogue commitments and seriously commit to the normalisation process.
Let me remind the Parties that their European paths go through the Dialogue and normalisation. Further escalation will have a very adverse impact on their European paths, as well as for the stability and security of the Western Balkans region.
Link to the video (starting from 19:15:35): https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/vod.html?mode=chapter&vodLanguage=EN&internalEPId=1696353169806&providerMeetingId=2f51e2a7-69da-4801-e973-08dbbe783c02#
Mr President, Honourable Members,
I will be very brief and very clear.
The debate today testifies for the need for the European Union to stay united and use all its leverage on both Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate tensions and return to the implementation of their Dialogue obligations and the normalisation process.
Their respective European paths are dependent on this.
In other words, their future in the European Union - nothing less - is at stake.
Link to the video (starting from 19:59:54): https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/vod.html?mode=unit&vodLanguage=EN&internalEPId=1696355994770&providerMeetingId=2f51e2a7-69da-4801-e973-08dbbe783c02#