By DUSAN STOJANOVICOctober 17, 2018


BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A U.S. call for the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission from Kosovo would leave Serbia no choice but to “protect” its people in the former Serbian province, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Wednesday.

Vucic did not specify what kind of action Serbia could take in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is protected by NATO.

His veiled threat came after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called last week for the development of “an exit strategy” for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, known as UNMIK.

In a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, she argued that while the U.N. has “successfully managed a complex conflict,” now that Kosovo is an independent country, the U.N. civilian mission “will continue to hold hostage the UN’s valuable time and resources.”

Vucic says the mission’s departure — as well as the possible formation of the Kosovo army by the ethnic Albanian leadership — would leave Serbia no choice “but to protect our country and our people.”

He said that he “begs” the U.S. to take into account “the stability and peace in the Western Balkans” when calling for the U.N. pullout.

UNMIK was deployed in Kosovo in 1999 after NATO intervened to stop a bloody Serb crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatists. Serbia insists on the UN’s continued presence before a final deal is made over Kosovo’s future.

Serbia and its allies Russia and China don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, but the U.S. and most Western countries do.

“It is clear that America wants to remove everything that the United Nations present in Kosovo … because for them Kosovo is an independent state,” Vucic said.

Tensions over Kosovo have been on the rise because of an apparent deadlock in European Union-mediated negotiations that are a precondition for the two countries’ possible future membership in the bloc.

Although Serbia is seeking EU membership, it lately has drifted toward Russia because of its support in the UN over Kosovo.

Serbia has increased its sabre rattling over Kosovo, including raising combat readiness of its troops over a series of small incidents.