- Local media in Kosovo are reporting that a group of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo are clashing with police as they try to block entrances to municipal buildings to prevent newly elected officials from entering them.
- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has ordered an “urgent” movement of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo
- Vucic also said in a written statement broadcast on state television RTS on Friday that he had put the army on “a state of high alert”.
Small ethnic Serb groups in northern Kosovo clashed with police on Friday as they tried to block entrances to municipal buildings to prevent newly elected officials from entering them, according to local media.
Police fired tear gas and several cars were set on fire. In response to the clashes, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a written statement broadcast on state television RTS that he had placed the army on “a state of high alert”. Vucic also said he had ordered an “urgent” movement of Serb troops to the Kosovo border.
Vucic will take part in a demonstration supporting him in Belgrade following two mass shootings earlier this month that killed 18 people and wounded 20 others.
Media reports also said that because of the “violence” against Kosovo Serbs, Vucic demanded that NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo protect them from Kosovo police.
Kosovo police acknowledged their increased presence in the north “to help the mayors of the northern communes of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok to exercise their right to work on official objects”.
SERBIA AND KOSOVO LEADERS TO DISCUSS EU-BACKED PLAN TO NORMALIZE TIES
Police said five officers were injured by stun grenades and other hard objects thrown by protesters. One police car was burned while three others were damaged. Police also reported that gunshots were heard.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and let new employees into the offices. Officials at Kosovo’s Serbian hospital said about 10 protesters were injured.
US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeff Hovenier condemned “the ongoing action by Kosovan authorities to access municipal buildings in northern Kosovo. Today’s violent measures must be immediately stopped,” he tweeted.
New mayors in three communes in northern Kosovo, which is inhabited mainly by an ethnic Serb minority, were refused entry to buildings with small groups of Serbs holding their hands up at the entrance to the communes, apparently in a sign that they were not there. to participate in the violence, wrote the Albanian website indexonline.net, also showing photos.
In Zvecan, the website Kosovo-online.com showed clashes with the police in front of the public building, while in Leposavic they also blocked the main square with cars and trucks.
Earlier, Serbs also turned on their alarm sirens in the four communes, including the main northern city of Mitrovica, in a warning signal and call for the meeting, “sirens that are used by criminal structures for mobilization and meetings”, according to the police.
The April 23 snap election was largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs and only ethnic Albanians or other representatives of smaller minorities were elected to mayoral and assembly posts.
Local elections were held in four Serb-dominated communes in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives walked out last year in protest against the establishment of the association, which would coordinate work on education, health, territorial planning and economic development at the local level. .
With Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs demanding autonomy, Kosovar Albanians fear the association could morph into a new mini-state like Srpska Republika in Bosnia.
A 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement on such a plan was later declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that it did not include other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers to enforce laws.
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The two sides have tentatively agreed to back an EU plan on how to proceed, but tensions continue to simmer. The issue of association is among the main ones on which both the United States and the European Union are pressing Kosovo.
The United States and EU have stepped up efforts to help resolve the Kosovo-Serb dispute, fearing further instability in Europe as war rages in Ukraine. The EU has made it clear to Serbia and Kosovo that they must normalize relations to advance their intentions to join the bloc.
Conflict in Kosovo erupted in 1998, when ethnic Albanian separatists rose up against Serbia’s government, and Serbia responded with brutal repression. About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died. NATO’s military intervention in 1999 eventually forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory. Washington and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.