North of Kosovo: KP officer shot dead, three attackers wounded, clashes are ongoing

FOTO: Albin Kurti

A Kosovo policeman was shot dead last night in the village of Banjska in the municipality of Zvecan in the north of Kosovo, while two police officers were wounded, although their injuries are not life-threatening. According to the details shared by the Kosovo Police, the Vucitrn-born sergeant was ambushed when shots were fired at three regular police units from Zvecan, which came to investigate the previously set up blockade made out of two trucks on the bridge at the entrance to the village of Banjska.

The gunfire and detonations lasted over a period of several hours. According to statements from local residents, the situation quieted down around 7 o’clock this morning, for a short time. Banjska locals are scared, describing the events from last night as a „real small-scale war“. However, conflicts continued during the day, now in the village itself, particularly in the surroundings of the 13th century monastery.

Three attackers were killed out of about 30 who have been surrounded by strong forces of the Kosovo police since this morning, and one was arrested. Also, during a „routine control“ in the village of Rudare, located about 10 km from Banjska, four more people were arrested, who are linked to the attackers. The police found a radio in their possession.

„There are at least 30 heavily armed people, professionals, either army or police, who are under siege by our police forces,“ the Kosovo Prime Minister announced at an emergency press conference.

He also shared videos and photos of armed persons and armored vehicles in Banjska and near the monastery itself.

„The photos show that these are not armed civilians or ‘smuggling gangs’, but professional military and police forces that have entered the territory of Kosovo. Both inside the monastery and outside the monastery, you can see armored vehicles without license plates and heavy weapons next to the outer wall,“ Kurti said.

He asked the attackers to surrender to the security authorities: „We want the rule of law, peace and security to reign for all citizens without any distinction.“

“This is not a fight with armed civilians, but with people who are heavily armed and pose a great danger – not only to the constitutional order and law in Kosovo, but also to the safety of all citizens.”

He underscored the fact that these individuals are masked, which is why they have not been able to identify any of them so far.

Kurti also added that Kosovo institutions „are not fighting against individuals, but for the law“.

„We enforce the law, and this professional army-police came to fight in Kosovo,“ Kurti said.

He emphasized that only after a investigation will they know „who they are dealing with“ and what is required for „law and justice to rule in Banjska in Zvecan“ – because this situation „cannot be tolerated“.

„The law and the constitution are concepts that guide us in any operations – not something else. If there is something new, it will be due to the professional evaluation of our security authorities, not the political decisions of the Prime Minister of Kosovo,“ he said.

Both Kurti and the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, who decided to cut her New York trip short due to today’s events, announced early this morning that „Serbian criminal gangs“ and official Belgrade are behind them. Osmani’s chief of staff, Blerim Vela, said this morning: „Serbian ‘green men’ with armored vehicles are located 15 km inside the territory of Kosovo (Banjska), where the terrorist attack on the Kosovo police resulted in the liquidation of a Kosovo police officer, while another was wounded.“

Kosovo Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Svecla is currently in the base of the special police forces in South Mitrovica. Svecla, using a similar tone to the one used by Kurti, alleged that 30 persons „in uniform, masked and with military equipment, with armored vehicles and heavy weapons of various types“ have opened fire from the direction and surroundings of the Banjska monastery.

He claims that these are „well organized and orchestrated criminal groups from Belgrade“, and that the attack „is still ongoing“.

„Our police units have been activated in the field, from time to time they were attacked with firearms from different positions, from organized and heavily armed groups,“ he said.

Referring to the statements of the Diocese of Raska-Prizren, he stated that one part of the group „barricaded“ itself inside the monastery.

„These terrorists are surrounded by police units and it is high time they surrender,“ Svecla added.

Before Kurti and Svecla addressed the public, the deputy commander of the Kosovo Police, Veton Elshani, who is in the field in Banjska, confirmed for KoSSev this morning that the exchange of fire is still ongoing.

„We see armed, uniformed people, heavy weapons, they are shooting at us, we are shooting back,“ he said.

At the time, he could not confirm what uniforms these persons were wearing and who they were, but he said that they were using armored vehicles.

Roads to Banjska have been blocked from all directions, while two border crossings in the north are also closed.

Locals in the village of Banjska have been terrified for hours. They are trapped in their homes and are afraid to communicate with each other even by telephone. The residents of this small village were woken up by gunfire and detonations around 2 am this morning.

Several locals we spoke to or communicated remotely this morning describe the situation in an almost identical manner. They say that the first shots were heard around two o’clock in the morning, or half past three, and then the detonations followed as early as around 4 in the morning. According to their testimonies, the shooting lasted for several hours, largely after dawn.

„It’s a real little-scale war. A burst of gunfire, then silence, gunfire. Detonations“ – one of the residents of this village describes today’s events.

The Banjska monastery from the 13th century, one of the most important parts of the cultural and historical heritage of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo, is in a particularly sensitive position. This monastery, which was badly destroyed, was renovated in previous years, and managed by Abbot Danilo and another monk. It is a frequent gathering place for pilgrims. A group of about 50 believers from Novi Sad, led by their priest, came to the monastery yesterday.

According to information from the Diocese, a group of armed, masked people entered the Banjska monastery this morning in an armored vehicle, whereby breaking down the monastery’s locked gate.

„A group of armed, masked people broke into the Banjska monastery in an armored vehicle, breaking the locked monastery gate. Currently, there is a group of believers from Novi Sad in the monastery, with a priest, Abbot Danilo and the monks of the monastery. For security reasons, the monks and the believers locked themselves in the monastery lodgings, and the temple of the monastery was also locked. Armed masked persons are moving around the courtyard and occasional shots are heard,“ announced the Diocese of Raska-Prizren before noon today.

They condemned the latest attack in which one Kosovo policeman was killed and two others were injured, expressing their condolences.

„It is a serious incident that can have major consequences, and therefore it is very important that everything is done to preserve peace and order. The Diocese expresses its sincere condolences to the family members of the late policeman and sincerely hopes that the two wounded will recover as soon as possible,“ they said in a statement.

The Diocese strongly condemns the open violence used in the religious site of the Serbian Orthodox Church, calling on all parties to end the conflict as soon as possible.

From the early hours of the morning, some Kosovo media outlets have been publishing photos of the monastery with the claim that „the attackers are barricaded in the monastery.“

„This is the place where the attackers who killed the Kosovo policeman in the north may have made an ambush (…). It is suspected that they barricaded themselves inside the monastery in Banjska, where they also shot at the police,“ wrote Klan Kosova, Bota Sot, Jepi i ze.

KoSSev, however, received information from church sources close to the monastery this morning that it was incorrect news at the time, and they also confirmed that they had locked the gate and that there were no attackers inside the monastery walls at that time.

„There are no attackers, nor were there any. Yesterday, a group of about 50 believers from Novi Sad arrived at the monastery with their priest. They are still there, everything is blocked so they cannot leave the monastery, they are terrified. They were woken up this morning around 2 by strong detonations, there was a lot of shooting from the surrounding hills, everything shook,“ our source close to the abbot told us early this morning.

And while the conflict continues on the ground between the attackers and strong police forces, international condemnations and support for the Kosovo authorities keep arriving. The Quint ambassadors are also meeting with Kurti.

The EU High Representative Josep Borrell, condemned today’s events in the north:
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the hideous attack by an armed gang against Kosovo Police officers in Banjska in the north of Kosovo, which left one police officer dead and two injured. All facts about the attack need to be established. The responsible perpetrators must face justice.”

Borrell also warned that more “innocent lives are at risk in ongoing hostilities in the surroundings of Banjska Monastery.”

He also said that the EU and its Member States repeatedly urge all actors to work to de-escalate the situation.

“EULEX, as second security responder, is on the ground and in close contact with the authorities and KFOR,” he added.

This was also confirmed by the EULEX Head of Mission, Giovanni Pietro Barbano, who said that EULEX is ready to “support Kosovo institutions to the maximum possible extent in maintaining stability & security of all its communities, in close coordination with KFOR.”

Barbano also said that he is “appalled” by the “violent attack” against KP, expressing his condolences to the family of the murdered police officers and wished a speedy recovery to the two officers who have been injured.

EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, expressed strong condemnation of “the horrific attack” against Kosovo police.

“Violence of any form is absolutely unacceptable. My heart goes out to the victims, their families and colleagues. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. Everyone needs to return to dialogue immediately,” he said.

The special representative of the Secretary General, Caroline Ziadeh, also strongly condemned this incident. Ziadeh called for the perpetrators to be held accountable, and urged all parties to exercise restraint.

The US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, had a similar reaction, strongly condemning what he described as “the orchestrated, violent attacks on the Kosovo Police.”

Hovenier added that they appreciate the “ongoing coordination between the KP, the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, and the NATO Kosovo Force, as appropriate.”

“KP has full and legitimate responsibility for enforcing the rule of law in Kosovo. The perpetrators must and will be held accountable and brought to justice,” Hovenier said on X.

The United Kingdom embassy in Pristina also reacted with similar condemnations.

“Kosovo’s institutions must be allowed to investigate and to identify the perpetrators of this terrible attack in order to bring them to justice in accordance with the rule of law. We welcome the close co-ordination of Kosovo Police, as first responder, with EULEX and KFOR,” they said.

“The perpetrators of these abominable crimes must be brought swiftly to justice. Peace must be restored and dialogue in the interests of all communities must continue,” the head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Michael Davenport, said earlier today.

Viola von Cramon, Rapporteur of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee for Kosovo, also condemned what she described as “the orchestrated attack on the legitimate police force,” adding that it is “absolutely unacceptable” and that perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“The immediate de-escalation is needed including the robust KFOR deployment and reinforcement throughout the north of Kosovo,” she added.

Addressing the potential participation of Serbian structures, von Cramon said that this must be investigated, noting that it is still “imperative to take all necessary actions to maintain peace and order.”

“I, therefore, urge all actors to convince armed men in Banjska monastary to lay down weapons and surrender without further delay. I welcome in that respect the Kosovo government’s caution and de-escalatory steps today, hoping that everyone remains calms in every part of Kosovo,” she concluded.

However, there is still no official reaction from Belgrade. It was originally announced that the head of the Kosovo Office would react, however, in the meantime it was revealed that the President of Serbia would speak address the public at 8 pm.

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