First Serbia-Kosovo direct train forced to stop at border due to 'bomb threat'

A man passes a train bound for Kosovo at the main railway station in Belgrade on 14 January 2017.Oliver Bunic/AFP/Getty Images

A new train route aimed at bringing together Serbia and Kosovo has been halted at the border between the two countries, after Kosovo claimed the train violated the country's sovereignty. Serbia claimed Kosovo special forces planned to blow up the track or arrest those aboard.

The train, which was to link Serbia's capital Belgrade with the ethnic Serbian enclave of Mitrovica, carried the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" in 20 languages, and was decorated with images of Serbian Orthodox religious icons, some from Kosovan monasteries. Hostesses were dressed in Serb national colours.

Serbia claimed the train was simply a celebration of Serbia's national heritage.

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The train was ordered to stop at the border town of Raska by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who claimed the track ahead may be sabotaged.

"This was an ambition to provoke a conflict, to start a wider conflict in this territory that we consider as ours," Vučić told reporters in Belgrade according to the New York Times. "It was my decision to stop the train in Raska to preserve the freedom and lives of our people, to prevent a wider conflict and show that we want peace."

Kosovo denied the sabotage claims, but Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said the decision to halt the train was the right one.

"I believe that turning back the train was the appropriate action and its entry into the independent and sovereign Republic of Kosovo would not be allowed," said Mustafa, quoted by the BBC.

A former Serbian province, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 which came after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and conflict in 1998-1999 in which Nato attacked Serbia, killing many civilians.

The US and European Union recognise Kosovo as a nation, but Serbia and Russia do not. Relations between Kosovo's majority Albanian population and minority Serbs remain tense.

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