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Serbs block roads at peak of violence in Kosovo

A Kosovo policeman guards a street in the Serb-majority northern part of the town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)
A Kosovo policeman guards a street in the Serb-majority northern part of the town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Bojan Slavkovic)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo police and local media reported explosions, gunshots and roadblocks overnight in the north of the country, where the majority of the population is ethnic Serb, despite the postponement of municipal elections on 18 of December which the Serbs opposed. No injuries were reported.

The European Union mission to uphold the rule of law, known as EULEX, also indicated that “a flash grenade was thrown at a EULEX reconnaissance patrol last night”, which caused no injuries or material damage.

The EU contingent, which has 134 Polish, Italian and Lithuanian police officers deployed in the north of the country, called on “those responsible to refrain from further provocative actions” and urged Kosovo’s institutions to “bring the perpetrators before the Justice”.

Recent tensions remain high, and the exchange of statements between Serbia and Kosovo has intensified.

Serbia’s president said on Monday he would officially ask for NATO permission to deploy Serbian troops in northern Kosovo, though he admitted it was highly unlikely he would be granted.

Serbian authorities say a 1999 United Nations resolution ending the country’s bloody crackdown on majority Kosovar Albanian separatists allows some 1,000 Serb soldiers to return to Kosovo. NATO bombarded Serbia to end the war and expel its troops from Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008.

The NATO-led peacekeepers, who have been working in Kosovo since the war, would have to authorize the entry of Serb troops, something very unlikely because in practice it would mean handing over the security of the northern areas of Kosovo with Serb populations to Serb forces, something that would drastically increase tensions in the Balkans.

“We don’t want a conflict. We want peace and progress, but we will respond to the aggression with all our might,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on social media.

Kurti told the European Union and the United States that not condemning such violence, which he said was orchestrated by Belgrade, would destabilize Kosovo.

Tensions had risen in the north ahead of elections originally scheduled for December 18. The vote has been postponed to April 23 in an attempt to defuse tensions.

The vote was called after ethnic Serbs resigned in November in protest of the Kosovar government’s decision to ban Serb vehicle license plates.

Serbian legislators, prosecutors and police officers also left their posts in local governments.

Despite attempts by US and EU officials to de-escalate hostilities, tensions have remained high in Kosovo since it declared independence. Serbia, backed by allies Russia and China, has refused to recognize Kosovo as a state.

Both Serbia and Kosovo want to join the EU, but Brussels has warned that they must resolve their differences and normalize relations before they can apply for membership.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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