Gunmen attack village in north Kosovo, cop among four dead

NORTH MITROVICA – Gunmen in armoured vehicles stormed a village in an ethnic Serbian-majority region of Kosovo on Sunday, battling police and barricading themselves in a monastery in a resurgence of violence in the restive north.

Kosovo police said one officer and three of about 30 attackers died in shootouts around the village of Banjska.

Monks and pilgrims were locked in the Serbian Orthodox monastery’s temple as the siege raged for hours.

Ethnic Albanians form the vast majority of the 1.8 million population of Kosovo, a former province of Serbia. But some 50 000 Serbs form the majority in the north, where clashes in May injured dozens of protesters and NATO alliance peacekeepers.

The Serbs have never accepted Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and still see Belgrade as their capital more than two decades after a Kosovo Albanian guerrilla uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

It was unclear who was behind Sunday’s violence, but Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla blamed “Serbia-sponsored criminals”.

“They are professionals, with military and police background,” said Kurti, urging their surrender.

Serbian officials had no immediate comment, though President Aleksandar Vucic was to give a statement in the evening.

The Serbian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Raska-Prizren, which includes Banjska, said men in an armoured vehicle stormed the monastery compound, forcing monks and visiting faithful to lock themselves inside the temple.

“Armed masked men move around the courtyard and occasional gunshots are heard,” it said in a statement.

“The Diocese strongly condemns the open violence being applied at the Serbian Orthodox Church religious facility, urging all sides to end the conflict as soon as possible.”

Police said the attackers first positioned heavy vehicles on a bridge into the village. They shot at police who approached them before heading to the nearby monastery.

As well as the fatalities, three police officers were injured in the shootouts, Kosovo police said. (Reuters)

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