Serbia and Kosovo were “on the brink of conflict,” according to the Serbian president, after a Kosovo-bound train with the popular catchphrase ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ was prevented from crossing the border by Albanians, who deemed it an affront.
The train bound for Serbian Mitrovica was the first direct link in 18 years between the Serbian capital Belgrade, and the city in northern Kosovo under Serbian control since the partially-recognized province gained independence in 2008.
The train, adorned with the common Serbian patriotic catchphrase ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ and painted in Serbian national colors, had stopped just short of entering Kosovo after Kosovo Albanians sent the ROSU – their special police – preventing the train’s entry and forcing Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic to call it back, narrowly averting an international incident.
“The appearance of ROSU was a sign the Albanians wanted war,” the Serbian leader was quoted by RTS as saying, as he spoke to journalists following a national security meeting. Nikolic added that such moves by the breakaway government are “twitches of the outgoing US administration.”
The government in Kosovo said it saw the inscription on the train as a provocation and a message of occupation, while the Serbian side insisted that it merely denotes a celebration of Serbia’s cultural heritage, which stretches back hundreds of years.
But tensions rose during the incident, prompting Nikolic to put things bluntly – that the two had briefly been on the precipice of war, and that the Serbian move to call back its train was quite measured, but will not be next time if Albanians threaten Serbian lives.
Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said earlier that he had contacted the US and EU to voice his concerns. Meanwhile, Edita Tahiri, the Kosovo government minister responsible for dialogue with Serbia, complained to Kosovo’s Western partners of the “illegal Serbian train,” alleging, according to local media, that “Serbia has a dangerous plan that should concern us all.”
Nikolic and senior Serbian officials condemned these moves. The Serbian president said he will be expecting a clear response from Brussels on whether it is true Mustafa had consulted the EU and had US support before illegally stopping the train.