Serbia puts its troops on high alert on the border with Kosovo after the clashes
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Serbia put its troops on the highest alert on the border with Kosovo on Friday following clashes between Serbs and Kosovo police that left more than a dozen injured on both sides.
The northern Kosovo Serbs, who represent the majority in the region, tried to barricade the entrances to municipal buildings to prevent the entry of recently elected Albanian officials.
The police fired tear gas and set several cars on fire. Responding to the clashes, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he had put the army on “highest alert”. Vučić also said he had ordered the “urgent” movement of Serbian troops to the Kosovo border.
Vucic is attending a rally in support of him in Belgrade following two mass shootings earlier this month that left 18 dead and 20 injured.
In his statement, he said that because of the “violence” against the Kosovo Serbs, Serbia demanded that the NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo protect them from the Kosovo police.
Kosovo police acknowledged their increased presence in the north “to assist the mayors of the northern settlements of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok in exercising their right to work.”
According to the police, five police officers were injured by stun grenades and other hard objects thrown from the protesters. One police car was on fire and three others were damaged. Police also reported hearing gunshots.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and allowed the new officials into the offices. Officials at the Kosovo Serb hospital said around 10 protesters were injured.
US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeff Hovenier condemned “the ongoing action by Kosovo authorities to gain access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo. Today’s violent measures must be stopped immediately,” he tweeted.
The new mayors of three municipalities in northern Kosovo were prevented from entering the buildings, and small groups of Serbs held up their hands at the entrance to the municipalities, apparently to indicate that they were not there to participate in the violence, Albanian website indexonline.net wrote, photos also presented.
In Zvecan, clashes with the police in front of the public building can be seen on Kosovo-online.com, and in Leposavic, the main square was also blocked with cars and trucks.
Earlier, the Serbs also activated alarm sirens in the four settlements, including the main northern city of Mitrovica, with a warning sign and a call for assembly, according to the police, “the sirens used by criminal organizations for mobilization and assembly.”
The snap election on April 23 was largely boycotted by the Serbs, and only representatives of ethnic Albanians or other smaller minorities were elected to the posts of mayors and assemblies.
Municipal elections were held in four Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives left their posts last year in protest against the creation of an association that would coordinate education, health, regional planning and economic development work at the local level.
As the Kosovo Serbs demand autonomy, the Kosovo Albanians fear that the federation could be transformed into a new ministry like Republika Srpska in Bosnia.
The 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement on the plan was later declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that it did not include other ethnicities and could involve the use of executive power to impose laws.
The two sides agreed in advance to support the EU’s plan to move forward, but tensions remain high. The association issue is one of the most important, which is why both the United States and the European Union are pushing for Kosovo.
The United States and the EU have stepped up efforts to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, fearing that the war in Ukraine could lead to further instability in Europe. The EU has made it clear to both Serbia and Kosovo that they need to normalize their relations in order to move forward with their intention to join the bloc.
The Kosovo conflict erupted in 1998 when separatist Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule and Serbia responded with brutal action. About 13,000 people died, most of them ethnic Albanians. NATO’s military intervention in 1999 eventually forced Serbia to withdraw from the area. Washington and most EU member states have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania, and Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report from Belgrade.