Violence reported in north Kosovo overnight as Serbs block roads

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Kosovo police and local media have reported explosions, shooting and road blocks overnight in the north of the country, where the population is mostly ethnic Serb, despite the postponement of municipal elections December 18 to which the Serbs were opposed.

No injuries have been reported.

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

Kosovo Serbia Tension
Local Serbs walk on the road by a barricade near the village of Rudare, north of the Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo (Bojan Slavkovic/AP)

Unidentified masked men were seen on the Serb barricades that were blocking main roads leading to the border with Serbia, as Kosovo authorities closed two border crossings to all traffic and pedestrians.

On Sunday morning, the situation was calm, but with an increased presence of Kosovar Albanian police in the areas with a mixed population in the north, and more international police and soldiers elsewhere.

Kosovo Serbs Tensions
Polish soldiers, part of the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, guard the road near a barricade close to the village of Rudare (Bojan Slavkovic/AP)

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Belgrade of trying to destabilise Kosovo. He said Serbia was also trying to bring an end to the EU-mediated dialogue on normalising bilateral ties and take it to the United Nations Security Council, where Belgrade hopes to get support from Russia and China.

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

Serbian officials claim a UN 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 is 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.

Kosovo Serbs Tensions
Trucks barricade the road near the village of Rudare in northern Kosovo (Bojan Slavkovic/AP)

He told the European Union and the United States that not denouncing such violence, which he said has been orchestrated by Belgrade, “would push it destabilise 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 in protest at a decision by Kosovo’s government to ban Serbia-issued vehicle licence plates.

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

A Kosovo police officer guards a street in the Serb-dominated part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica (Bojan Slavkovic/AP)

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

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

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