President Aleksandar Vucic says Kosovo must withdraw special police units, mayors for preserving peace in North
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday urged the Western countries to urgently adopt measures to guarantee the safety of Serbs in Kosovo.
Vucic met with the envoys from the US, UK, France, Italy, and Germany as well as with the head of the European Union delegation in the Serbian capital Belgrade amid rising tensions in Northern Kosovo.
“Today, I asked the Quint countries, which have the greatest influence on Pristina, to immediately adopt and implement certain measures that would guarantee the safety of the Serbs in Kosovo, which is a prerequisite for any further talks with the representatives of the temporary institutions in Pristina,” Vucic said in a statement after meeting the envoys.
The Quint is an informal decision-making group consisting of the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy.
Vucic expressed strong concern over the fact that a part of the international community continues to tolerate unilateral moves by Pristina.
He added that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti must withdraw his special police units and the mayors from the region as a condition for preserving peace in Kosovo.
“I hope you will be able to reason with Kurti to withdraw his forces and personal mayors from the North,” said Vucic.
Tensions have gripped Kosovo with protesters and security forces clashing in the country’s northern Serb-dominated municipalities over the election of ethnic Albanian mayors.
At least 30 soldiers of the NATO-led international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR) were injured in clashes with protesting Serbs on Monday.
Meanwhile, more than 53 civilians suffered injuries from shock bombs and tear gas, hospital sources said.
One person underwent surgery and is in intensive care, said Zlatan Elek, director of the Clinical Hospital Center in Mitrovica, a Serb-dominated municipality that was the scene of clashes.
Police in Kosovo announced on Monday that at least five people were detained.
China on Tuesday put its weight behind Serbia amid the Balkan nation’s renewed conflict with neighboring Kosovo.
China “supports Serbia’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposes unilateral actions taken by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government in Pristina,” said Mao Ning, spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, according to the Chinese daily Global Times.
US, Germany condemn violence
Germany and the US condemned the incidents of violence in the region.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the unacceptable violent attacks in the north of Kosovo this afternoon, causing dozens of KFOR/NATO soldiers and several civilians to be injured. Our thoughts are with the injured, whom we wish a speedy recovery,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement, calling for “an immediate halt to all violence.”
The US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeff Hovenier also condemned the violence.
“The U.S. strongly condemns the violent actions of protesters in Zvecan today, including the use of explosives, against NATO’s forces. Troops seeking to keep the peace. We reiterate our call for an immediate halt to violence or actions that inflame tensions or promote conflict,” Hovenier tweeted.
Since Monday morning, Serb protesters have gathered outside the Serb-dominated Zvecan municipality in northern Kosovo to bar newly elected Albanian mayors from entering three municipal buildings.
The protesters attempted to breach the police cordon in front of the town hall, the police said in a statement, adding that they used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
KFOR units also used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters, who did not retreat and responded with stones and sticks.
Last month, Kosovo Serbs boycotted extraordinary local government elections for four municipalities in the country’s north. Only 3.47% of eligible voters cast ballots, according to the Kosovo Central Election Commission (KQZ).
After the elections, the EU said in a statement that low turnout did not provide municipalities with long-term political solutions.
As tensions heightened in the region, Serbia ordered its army to advance to the border with Kosovo and urged NATO to “stop the violence against local Serbs in Kosovo.”
Kosovo Serbs on Saturday called on Vucic to suspend the ongoing dialogue process for normalizing relations with Kosovo, whose 2008 independence neighboring Serbia has never recognized.
The EU requires Kosovo and Serbia to reach a final agreement and resolve disputes to progress in their integration into the bloc.