Tensions are rising in Kosovo. On Sunday, Serbs living in the country blocked roads with heavy vehicles and trucks. In the night from Saturday to Sunday, there was an exchange of fire between the protesters and the police. Earlier, a stun grenade was thrown at a patrol of the EULEX mission, the agencies say. The riots broke out after the arrest of a former Serbian police officer amid tensions between the authorities and the Serbian minority in Kosovo.
In Kosovo, tensions between the authorities and the local Serb minority have increased in recent weeks, accusing the government in Pristina of anti-Serbian policies.
The latest wave of protests was sparked by Saturday’s arrest of Serbian policeman Dejan Pantic, who was allegedly attacking state buildings and breaking windows in the office of the electoral commission. Pantić is among a group of Serbian policemen and officials working in Kosovo who left their jobs last month after Kosovo authorities announced that Serbs had to replace old car registration plates issued before the war in the Balkans that led to Kosovo’s independence.
Late Saturday evening, Kosovo police said they had come under fire at various locations near the border with Kosovo Serbia. It added that the officers were forced to return fire in self-defense. There are no reports of injured.
On Sunday, the second day of protests, demonstrators blocked several main roads leading to two border crossings with Serbia with trucks and other heavy vehicles, stopping traffic on both, Reuters reported.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti addressed the peacekeepers FOR THIS in Kosovo (KFOR) to remove the barricades set up by the protesters. “We call on KFOR to guarantee freedom of movement and the removal of roadblocks,” he appealed.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic wrote on Instagram that “there will be no capitulation” in Kosovo, but stipulated that Belgrade “will continue to fight for peace using all available legal means.”
Kurti reacted to the post and said that Kosovo “is not looking for war, but for dialogue and peace.” But he added: “Let me be clear: the Republic of Kosovo will defend itself with strength and determination,” Reuters reported.
The prime minister also accused Serbia of trying to destabilize Kosovo and interrupting the EU-sponsored dialogue on the normalization of bilateral relations. According to Kurti, Belgrade is trying to transfer these negotiations to the Security Council forum UNwhere the position of Serbia will support Russiaits traditional ally, backed by China, writes the AP.
Attack on a patrol of an EU mission
The EU police mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which is tasked with patrolling the northern part of the country, said on Saturday evening that a stun grenade was thrown at one of its armored vehicles. As reported, no one was injured.
EULEX called on those who threw the grenade to “refrain from provocation” and called on the Kosovo authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
Head of EU diplomacy Josep Borrell stated that the EU “will not tolerate attacks on EULEX or the use of violent criminal force” in Kosovo.
Tensions rise in the Balkans
As the AP comments, the war of words between Serbia and Kosovo is escalating. AFP notes that tensions have increased in the past week in connection with the local elections scheduled for December 16 in Kosovo. President Vjosa Osmani was forced to move it to April 23.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Saturday that Belgrade would ask the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR) to send Serbian soldiers and police there. As the AP writes on Sunday, it is highly unlikely that KFOR would agree to this, as it would de facto hand over security oversight of northern Kosovo to the Serbs, which could inflame the situation even more.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo after the 1999 NATO military campaign and refuses to recognize its former province’s independence declared in 2008. There are nearly 120,000 people living in Kosovo, which has a population of about 1.8 million. Serbs.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/STR