US warns of large Serbian military build-up near Kosovo

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WASHINGTON – The United States urged Belgrade to pull its forces back from the border with Kosovo on Friday after detecting what it called an “unprecedented” Serbian military build-up.

Serbia deployed sophisticated tanks and artillery on the frontier after deadly clashes erupted at a monastery in northern Kosovo last week, the White House warned.

The violence – in which a Kosovo police officer and three Serb gunmen were killed – marked one of the gravest escalations for years in Kosovo, a former Serbian breakaway province.

“We are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“That includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanised infantry units. We believe that this is a very destabilising development.”

He said: “We are calling on Serbia to withdraw those forces from the border.”

The build-up took place within the last week, but its purpose was not yet clear, Mr Kirby added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had telephoned Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to urge “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue”, he said.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and “expressed concern about Serbian military mobilisations”, according to a readout of the call.

The pair also “discussed the European Union-facilitated Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which Mr Sullivan underscored was the only long-term solution to ensuring stability throughout Kosovo”, the readout said.

Serbian President Vucic did not directly deny there had been a recent build-up but rejected claims that his country’s forces were on alert.

“I have denied untruths where they talk about the highest level of combat readiness of our forces, because I simply did not sign that and it is not accurate,” he told reporters.

“We don’t even have half the troops we had two or three months ago.”

Serbia said on Wednesday that the Defence Minister and head of the armed forces had gone to visit a “deployment zone” but gave no further details.

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