Mon, Jun 5, 2023 9:35 AM
ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish commando battalion requested by NATO has arrived in Kosovo to assist in quelling recent violent unrest in the Balkan country.
The Turkish Defense Ministry shared a video Sunday showing troops wearing the insignia of the Kosovo Force, a NATO-led peacekeeping mission established in 1999, departing Turkey and arriving in Kosovo.
Violent clashes with ethnic Serbs a week ago left 30 international soldiers — 11 Italians and 19 Hungarians — and more than 50 demonstrators injured. The injuries the soldiers suffered included fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices.
The clashes grew out of an earlier confrontation after ethnic Albanian candidates who were declared the winners of local elections in northern Kosovo entered municipal buildings to take office and were blocked by Serbs. Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the votes.
Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The violence near their shared border has stirred fear of a renewal of a 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives and resulted in the KFOR peacekeeping mission. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty and has maintained close relations with the country since the late 1990s.
After the soldiers were injured last week, NATO said it would send an additional 700 troops to northern Kosovo. Around 500 members of Turkey’s 65th mechanized infantry brigade will make up the bulk of the NATO reinforcements, the military alliance said Monday.
The Turkish battalion will initially be stationed at Camp Sultan Murat in Prizren, Kosovo, and remain in Kosovo “for as long as necessary,” NATO said.
“Turkey is an important and highly valued ally, making key contributions to NATO. This includes troops for our peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, which is even more important now, when tensions are high. I thank Turkey for sending reinforcements to northern Kosovo, following the recent unrest,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Sunday.
The government of Kosovo and representatives of the country's ethnic Serb minority exchanged tit-for-tat conditions to de-escalate the situation.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the government might consider holding fresh elections in four northern cities with majority Serb populations but not before gangs responsible for violence leave.
The ethnic Serb Srpska List Party said it would participate in new municipal elections but that the government needed to first withdraw special police forces from northern Kosovo and proceed with establishing an association of majority Serb communities.
Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union's envoy for Kosovo-Serbia talks, arrived in Pristina on Monday to meet with top leaders. KFOR currently consists of almost 3,800 troops, including some 350 from Turkey. The Turkish commando battalion will be joining the peacekeeping mission as a reserve unit.