Ethnic Serbs working in Kosovo will leave their jobs unless a deal is reached to end their "persecution," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic warned on Sunday, reported DW, quoting news agencies AP and Reuters.
In a fiery TV address after meeting Kosovo Serbs, Vucic called on NATO peacekeepers to "do their job" or Belgrade would move to protect the Serb minority in the breakaway province.
The comments follow the collapse of political talks between Serbian and Kosovo leaders earlier this week, mediated by the European Union in Brussels.
License plate rule reignites tensions
Already tense relations between the two neighbors worsened recently after Kosovo authorities said they would require local Serbs to switch their car number plates from Serbian to Kosovan ones.
Serbia has enforced a similar policy on Kosovo citizens over the past 10 years.
Minority Serbs in Kosovo reacted with anger to the plans, putting up roadblocks, sounding air raid sirens and firing guns into the air and in the direction of Kosovo police officers.
No one was injured but Kosovo temporarily closed two border crossings with Serbia to maintain security.
After the protest, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti bowed to US and EU pressure and postponed the license plate rule until next month.
Serbia denies whipping up tensions and accuses Pristina of trampling on the rights of minority Serbs, who make up 5% of Kosovo's 1.8 million population.
Belgrade not hopeful ties can be mended
Vucic said he was not optimistic about finding a solution to the crisis, adding that Kosovo had rejected all "compromise solutions" that he proposed.
"We shall seek a compromise in the next 10 days but I fear that the Rubicon has been crossed long ago," he added.
Vucic also claimed, again without proof, that Kosovo's government wanted "the final removal of the Serbian people from Kosovo" — something that has been repeatedly denied by Kosovo officials.
Vucic also criticized NATO for increasing its presence in the northern part of Kosovo.
Meanwhile, Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla on Sunday visited local police units stationed near the northern border, saying that he hoped there will be no trouble when the new measures begin on September 1.
NATO peacekeepers on standby
NATO troops — who have been stationed in Kosovo following the 1998-99 war between Serbian forces and Kosovo separatists — have been deployed at main roads in the north following the collapse of EU-brokered talks.
The peacekeepers say they are ready to protect the freedom of movement for all sides.
The EU has made normalized ties one of the main preconditions for Kosovo and Serbia to join the 27-nation bloc.
Kosovo won independence from Serbia in 2008 and its constitution guarantees a number of roles in parliament and government for minority Serbs.
However, Belgrade — along with Moscow and Beijing — still considers Kosovo an integral part of Serbian territory.
Meanwhile, there are fears that Russia could encourage Serbia into an armed intervention in northern Kosovo that would further destabilize the Balkans.
Any operation by Serbia or Russia would likely shift at least some world and NATO attention from Russia's war in Ukraine.