Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has urged NATO to further boost its military forces in Kosovo and deploy them along the country’s border with Serbia, saying that illegal activity, including arms and narcotics smuggling, is currently “out of control” at the frontier.
Speaking on November 22 after a meeting in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Rama said there had been repeated attempts to significantly increase the number of troops in Kosovo.
During the informal meeting, which included the leaders of Western Balkan NATO members, Rama said that he asked NATO to be more present in Kosovo with a larger number of troops deployed on Kosovo’s border with Serbia.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, who also attended the meeting, supported Rama’s proposal, which Stoltenberg said he would consider.
Rama said the deadly attack on September 24 by an armed group on the Kosovo police in the village of Banjska in northern Kosovo should serve as a warning.
“This event showed the great potential of destabilization and escalation of a certain conflict,” Rama said, adding that during the meeting he pointed to the need “to guarantee the borders between Kosovo and Serbia — a border which is actually out of control and is at the service of illegal activities.”
This includes arms and narcotics smuggling and activities that “mix with political activity against an ultranationalist background,” he said.
The increased tensions that followed the attack in Banjska, as well clashes that erupted in northern Kosovo in late May following municipal elections that were boycotted by local Serbs, have raised concerns that Russia could try to foment trouble in the Balkans to avert attention from the war in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg reiterated after the talks in Skopje that NATO doesn’t see any military threat to its allies in the Western Balkans.
“But what we do see is an increase in tensions, especially in Kosovo,” he said.
He added that NATO has strengthened its military presence in Kosovo, known as KFOR, with about 1,000 additional troops and heavier weaponry.
During a visit to Kosovo on November 20, Stoltenberg said that NATO was considering deploying additional peacekeeping troops there. On his stop in Belgrade, he said that the recent violent outbreaks in Kosovo were “unacceptable,” and those responsible “must face justice.”
Serbia, which doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Kosovo both want to join the European Union, which is mediating a dialogue between them that has stalled, prompting Brussels to warn that their refusal to compromise jeopardizes their chances of joining the bloc.
Stoltenberg said he pointed out at every meeting during his tour of the region this week that it is important to choose dialogue and diplomacy over conflict and war.
“Secessionist demands threaten peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the main dialogue is essential for Belgrade and Pristina and their path to peace and prosperity,” he said. “It is time to overcome regional conflicts that have lasted too long.”
Rama, Milanovic, and Stoltenberg were joined at the meeting by the prime ministers of North Macedonia and Montenegro, Dimitar Kovacevski and Milojko Spajic, respectively.
North Macedonia has been part of NATO since March 2020 when it became the 30th member. Montenegro joined the military alliance in 2017. Albania and Croatia officially became members in 2009.