BELGRADE/MOSCOW: Serbia’s army remained on the “highest level of alert” near the border with Kosovo, the Balkan country’s presidency said on Saturday, a day after clashes broke out between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo police.
On Friday, special units of Kosovo’s police fired tear gas as Serbs protested the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors elected in April, after a controversial vote in four northern Kosovo towns that are mainly populated by Serbs.
Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority boycotted the elections in the north in April, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of the local councils despite the vote’s tiny turnout of less than 3.5 per cent.
There are frequent bouts of unrest in Kosovo’s northern districts, home to many ethnic Serbs, who have remained loyal to Belgrade and never accepted Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.
Russia blames US, EU for escalating tensions in the Balkans
An estimated 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, many in the four northern districts.
In the wake of the latest unrest, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ordered the army on Friday to be placed on high alert and “start moving” towards the border with Kosovo. On Saturday morning, Vucic chaired a meeting of the National Security Council which adopted a plan of “security activities... aimed at strengthening Serbia’s defence capabilities”, the Serbian president’s office said in a statement.
The presidency added that “Serbia’s armed forces remain in a state of maximum alert until further notice”.
The United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany called on the Kosovo authorities “to immediately step back and de-escalate”, adding that they were also “concerned by Serbia’s decision to raise the level of readiness” of its army.
Nato spokesperson Oana Lungescu called on “all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue”.
However, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti showed no hint of backtracking and said that while Pristina understood “the concerns” of their “international partners... any other option would be a failure to fulfil constitutional obligations”.
“I invite everyone, especially Kosovo Serb citizens, to cooperate with the new mayors and their cabinets, which will be multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual,” Kurti said on Facebook.
Russia on Saturday blamed Kosovo, the United States and European Union for escalating tensions in the Balkans and said it was watching with concern after violent clashes between Kosovan police and protesters opposed to ethnic Albanian mayors.
The United States and allies rebuked Kosovo, saying the use of force to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas undermined efforts to improve troubled relations with neighbouring Serbia.
“We decisively condemn Pristina’s provocative steps, which have brought the situation close to the hot phase and directly threaten the security of the whole Balkans region,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023