In a joint press conference in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Tuesday the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić each gave their views on the situation in Kosovo and relations between the alliance and the Balkan nation.

Stoltenberg said that the recent ethnic violence in Kosovo was unacceptable and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

In May, Serb demonstrators had clashed with NATO peacekeeping troops in the north of Kosovo, close to the border with Serbia. In September, a Kosovo policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed in exchanges of gunfire after about 30 masked men fired on a police patrol near the Kosovo village of Banjska.

As a result, NATO has increased the size of its peacekeeping presence in Kosovo and on Monday Stoltenberg said on Monday he was considering deploying additional troops.

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For his part Vučić said that tensions in Kosovo were the result of increased pressure on the ethnic Serb minority by the government there and he said that only Serbs “are under threat in Kosovo.”

Vučić did pledge to prosecute the alleged ringleaders of the armed group behind the September shootout while denying allegations that Belgrade had any hand in provoking the incident.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Stoltenberg also urged Serbia and Kosovo to engage “constructively” after a European Union facilitated a meeting between Pristine and Belgrade in October aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries but at which neither side was prepared to compromise. 

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Both nations have ambitions to join the EU but have been warned by its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, that continued refusal to compromise between their differences jeopardized their chances of joining the EU.

Stoltenberg said that during the meeting he had also called for increased cooperation between NATO and had asked Serbia to consider the resumption of joint military training exercises, which had stopped following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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Serbia has declared itself neutral and has close traditional ties with Moscow and has refused to join in with sanctions against Russia, which has backed Belgrade’s territorial claim to Kosovo.

Stoltenberg said that NATO respected Serbia’s decision to remain militarily neutral and said the request to resume training together “… does not undermine the neutrality of Serbia, which has made it clear that it stays militarily neutral, outside military blocs.”

He then added that Belgrade is an important regional actor who has been a partner with NATO since joining the Partnership for Peace program in 2006 and the Science for Peace program.

Vučić responded by saying “As [Serbia’s] Commander-in-Chief, I will send a request to the government of the Republic of Serbia to consider the decision to resume the joint exercises with NATO that we conducted previously, and with our other partners in the coming period.

“It is important for us to cooperate with NATO and KFOR (the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo) in the hope of somehow ensuring the security of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija,” the Serbian leader emphasized. “We’re doing the right thing by cooperating with NATO, our interaction is at a good level.”

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