Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said last week that the situation in Kosovo was “on the brink of armed conflict,” as tensions rise. On Sunday, the crisis worsened when Kosovo police special forces reportedly attacked Serbs at barricades near the settlement of Zubin Potok. No injuries were reported.
Over 50,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo where local Serbs erected barricades after Kosovo Albanian police arrested a former Serbian police officer on December 10 on charges of assaulting Kosovo police officers during a recent protest. Protesters are demanding the release of the arrested officer along with other demands before they will agree to remove the barricades.
Ethnic Serb mayors in northern municipalities, along with local judges, and over 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest over a Kosovo government decision to replace Serbian-issued car license plates with ones issued by the government in Pristina, which they do not recognize. Prishtina suspended the policy due to the outrage it caused, but the mass departure of local officials has created security problems in Northern Kosovo. In response, Kosovo’s government scheduled local elections in Serb-majority municipalities for December 18. The main Serbian political party announced a boycott.
Some 3,760 NATO troops (KFOR) are present in the area attempting to maintain a fragile peace and Kosovo’s government has asked KFOR to remove the barricades, but they are reluctant to get involved directly. Today, Western Ambassadors called on Serbian President Alexander Vucić to remove barricades erected by Serbian nationals, saying that if he fails to comply within 24 hours, they will not prevent Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti from acting on his own to remove them, a move that could spark renewed violence in the region.
Following this latest incident, Vucic consulted with Prime Minister Brnabic and the head of the Serbian General Staff, General Milan Mojsilovic. Vucic said that the situation in northern Kosovo and Metohija is difficult and requires the presence of Serbian armed forces along the administrative line between the autonomous region and mainland Serbia. The Serbian President dispatched Mojsilovic to the border with Kosovo on Sunday. In an interview with Pink TV, Mojsilovic said, “The tasks the Serbian army has received... are precise, clear, and will be fully implemented.”