Police Circle Village After Gunmen Storm Monastery

Gunbattles flare near Kosovo's border with Serbia
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 24, 2023 1:50 PM CDT
Police Circle Village After Gunmen Storm Monastery
In this photo provided by the Kosovo Police, a group of armed, masked men stand in front of the Banjska Monastery on Sunday in North Kosovo.   (Kosovo Police via AP)

At least 30 gunmen killed a Kosovar Albanian police officer, then stormed an Orthodox monastery in Kosovo near its border with Serbia, setting off ongoing gunbattles that have left three assailants dead and raised tensions between the two former wartime foes as they seek to normalize ties. Police have surrounded Banjska, a village located 35 miles north of the Kosovo's capital where the monastery is located, and the gunfire is continuing, said Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Sunday, adding that the attack had support from neighboring Serbia. The Kosovo Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church said a temple of the monastery was locked down after the gunmen stormed it. A group of pilgrims from Serbia was inside the temple, along with an abbot, the AP reports.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic planned to speak later Sunday to "expose Kurti's lies," according to pro-government media, apparently referring to Kurti's statement that Serbia backed the attack. It was unclear if the gunmen were Serbs. Serbia and its former province, Kosovo, have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-99 war left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognize the move. Earlier this month, an EU-facilitated meeting in Brussels between Kurti and Vucic to normalize ties ended in acrimony. The US has supported the negotiations and the EU's position in trying to resolve the tension in the Balkans.

The Kosovo diocese said a group of masked men in an armored vehicle stormed the monastery on Sunday, breaking down the locked gate and firing guns. "Armed, masked men move around the courtyard and occasional gunshots are heard," it said. One of the assailants reportedly was arrested, and four ethnic Serbs were arrested in a nearby village with communication equipment, per the AP. Other weapons and ammunition were found at a location apparently used by the assailants, according to Kosovar police. In addition to the officer killed, two others were injured, authorities said. At a news conference, Kurti described the armed assailants as "an organized professional unit who have come to fight in Kosovo," calling on them to hand themselves over to Kosovar authorities.

(More Kosovo stories.)

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