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The drills come as the Western military bloc ramps up its presence in the province

NATO’s mission in Kosovo announced on Sunday that it will hold “tactical” military exercises in the coming days. The announcement came amid tensions between Kosovo’s Western-backed government and the province’s Serbian minority.

Kosovo Force (KFOR) “will conduct a regular military exercise near its base in Novo Selo,” the mission announced via its Twitter account. “The exercise aims to train KFOR units to guarantee freedom of movement in a crisis response situation & it will consist [of] a series of tactical simulations & logistic activities.”

“Freedom of movement” may be a reference to the removal of barricades, which Kosovo’s Serb minority erected around their communities earlier this month to protect against incursion by the majority-Albanian province’s security forces.

The barricades went up after Kosovo police arrested a Serb officer last week, accusing him of attacking one of their patrols. As tensions between Pristina and Belgrade flared, ethnic Albanian officials replaced their Serbian counterparts in North Mitrovica, the largest Serb-majority municipality in the north of Kosovo. Previously, all Serb List party members, who had enjoyed a landslide election victory, resigned from their posts in protest at Pristina’s now-defunct plan to outlaw Serbian license plates in Kosovo.

On Thursday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic asked for KFOR’s permission to deploy up to 1,000 Serbian troops and police officers in Kosovo, as it is entitled to do under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. This resolution, which ended NATO’s bombing campaign on former Yugoslavia in 1999, allows Belgrade to send its military and police personnel to Kosovo in certain situations, including if the “peaceful and normal life” of its population there is threatened.

While KFOR has yet to respond to Vucic’s request, it told US state media on Friday that it is “currently evaluating” the proposal. Meanwhile, KFOR announced an expansion of its own deployment in northern Kosovo on Saturday.

Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has been occupied by NATO forces since 1999.

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