Tense overnight violence in north Kosovo, Serbs block roads

Kosovo police and the local media have reported explosions, shooting and road blocks over night in the north of the country, where the majority of the population is ethnic Serb

December 11, 2022 04:45 pm | Updated 09:54 pm IST - PRISTINA, Kosovo

Kosovo Serbs block the road near the village of Rudine, North Mitrovica, Kosovo on December 11, 2022.

Kosovo Serbs block the road near the village of Rudine, North Mitrovica, Kosovo on December 11, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Kosovo police and the local media on December 11 reported explosions, shooting and road blocks overnight in the north of the country, where the population is mostly ethnic Serb, despite the postponement of the December 18 municipal election the Serbs were opposed to. No injuries have been reported.

The European Union rule of law mission, known as EULEX, also reported that “a stun grenade was thrown at a EULEX reconnaissance patrol last night,” causing no injury or material damage.

EULEX, which has some 134 Polish, Italian and Lithuanian police officers deployed in the north, called on “those responsible to refrain from more provocative actions" and said it urged the Kosovo institutions "to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Recent tensions remain high, with Serbia and Kosovo intensifying their exchange of words.

Serbia’s president on Saturday said he would formally request NATO permission to deploy Serbian troops in northern Kosovo, while conceding this was most unlikely to be granted.

Serbian officials claim a U.N. resolution that formally ended the country’s bloody crackdown against majority Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999 allows for some 1,000 Serb troops to return to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to end the war and push its troops out of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

The NATO-led peacekeepers who have been working in Kosovo since the war would have to give a green light for Serb troops to go there, something that’s highly unlikely because it would de-facto mean handing over security of Kosovo’s Serb-populated northern regions to Serbian forces, a move that could dramatically increase tensions in the Balkans.

“We do not want a conflict. We want peace and progress but we shall respond to aggression with all our powers,’ Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti posted on social media.

Mr. Kurti told the European Union and the United States that not denouncing such violence, which he said was orchestrated by Belgrade, “would push it destabilize Kosovo.”

Tension in the north has been high this week ahead of the polls initially planned for December 18. They have now been postponed to April 23 in an attempt to defuse the situation.

The election was due after ethnic Serb representatives resigned their posts in November to protest a decision by Kosovo’s government to ban Serbia-issued vehicle license plates.

Serb lawmakers, prosecutors and police officers also abandoned local government posts.

Tensions have been high in Kosovo ever since it proclaimed independence from Serbia, despite attempts by the European Union and U.S. officials to defuse them. Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Both Serbia and Kosovo want to join the EU but Brussels has warned they must resolve their dispute and normalize relations to be eligible for membership in the bloc.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the NATO-led mission in Kosovo “remains vigilant.”

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