Kosovo refuses Red Star Belgrade players entry to play Serbian Cup tie in Mitrovica

November 11 – In a fresh outbreak of  regional geo-politics, Red Star Belgrade, Serbia’s leading team, was banned from entering Kosovo this week to play a Serbia Cup match against a local side, with the club’s bus prevented from crossing into the former Serbian province.

The majority ethnic Albanian country proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move Belgrade still refuses to recognise even though most of the United Nations does.

Kosovo still has a minority ethnic Serb population and Kosovo Trepca, a Serb team, should have hosted Red Star in the last 16 of the Serbia Cup. But Kosovo authorities refused to allow the game to go ahead.

“We were banned from entering despite FIFA recommendations to allow the match to be played,” Red Star director Zvezdan Terzic told Serbia’s state-run RTS television. “Kosovo institutions turned a deaf ear to this recommendation.”

Terzic added that he was surprised even more by the decision since Trepca plays Serbia regional league matches in the Kosovan town of  Mitrovica.

Tensions were high on a border crossing as police faced off with Red Star fans and Kosovo Serb politicians waiting for the bus to arrive. Amid tit-for-tat rhetoric, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Red Star was “one of the Serbian symbols and that’s why it is not welcome among the enemies of Serbia.”

The head of the Serbian government Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, said Kosovo had no right to ban players from entering what he called Serbia’s southern province.

“By trying to install an iron curtain between central Serbia and our southern province, Pristina is choosing the road of self-isolation,” he said, calling for Kosovo to be thrown out of both FIFA and UEFA.

Erold Salihu, secretary general of the Kosovo Football Federation, argued that in Kosovo “there were never competitions” under the auspices of the Serbia Federation.

“We will always allow the arrival of Red Star or Partizan for a friendly or a humanitarian match,” Salihu was quoted by RTS.

Kosovo FA president Adem Ademi put it more simply. “One country cannot organize official competitions in another country” without their consent, he said.

A Kosovan FA statement added that it had not given  permission for the match.

“We are open to include under our umbrella all football clubs which operate in Kosovo… no matter their ethnic background. So we call on [Kosovo] Serbian clubs to accept reality as soon as possible and play within FFK-organized regular competitions,” the statement said.

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