Serbia puts army on high alert as Kosovo Serbs clash with police

Police in Kosovo tear gas small groups of ethnic Serbs who try to block the entrance of municipal buildings.

Small groups of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo have clashed with police while trying to block the entrance of municipal buildings to prevent recently elected officials from entering, according to local media.

Police fired tear gas and several cars were set ablaze on Friday.

In response to the clashes, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a written statement carried on state-run RTS television that he put the army on a “higher state of alert”.

Vucic also said that he ordered an “urgent” movement of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo.

The media reports also said that because of “violence” against Kosovo Serbs, Vucic demanded that NATO-led troops stationed in Kosovo protect them from the Kosovo police.

Kosovo police officers patrol on the bridge dividing southern Albanian and the northern, Serb-dominated part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo [File: Visar Kryeziu/AP]

Kosovo police acknowledged their increased presence in the north “to assist mayors of the northern communes of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok to exert their right of work at the official objects”.

New mayors in three communes in northern Kosovo, which is mostly populated by ethnic Serbs who are a minority in the greater country, were prevented from entering the buildings by small groups of Serbs keeping their hands up at the entrance of the municipalities, apparently in a sign that they were not there to take part in violence, Albanian website wrote, also showing photos.

In Zvecan, the site showed clashes with police in front of the public building, while in Leposavic, they also had blocked the main square with cars and trucks.

Earlier, Serbs also switched on their alarm sirens in the four communes, including in the main northern Mitrovica town, in a warning sign and call to gather.

Local elections

The April 23 snap election was largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs and only ethnic Albanian or other smaller minority representatives were elected in the mayoral posts and assemblies.

Local elections were held in four Serb-dominated communes in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives left their posts in protest last year and the Serbian community has demanded the establishment of a promised association of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, which would coordinate work on education, healthcare, land planning and economic development at the local level.

With Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs demanding autonomy, Kosovar Albanians fear that the association may turn into a new mini-state like Srpska Republika in Bosnia.

The establishment of the association was originally a part of the 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement, but was later declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that it was not inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers to impose laws.

The two sides have tentatively agreed to back an EU plan forward, but tensions have continued to simmer.

Both the United States and the European Union are pressing Kosovo on the association issue.

The US and the EU have stepped up efforts to help solve the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, fearing further instability in Europe as the war rages in Ukraine.

The EU has made it clear to both Serbia and Kosovo that they must normalise relations to advance in their intentions to join the bloc.

The conflict in Kosovo erupted in 1998 when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s rule, and Serbia responded with a brutal crackdown.

About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died.

NATO’s military intervention in 1999 eventually forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.

Washington and most EU countries have recognised Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.

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