In the north of Kosovo, tensions between Serbs and Albanian Kosovars continue to mount. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić ordered the army to be “on the highest combat alert”, Defense Minister Miloš Vučević said on Monday evening. Earlier, Serbian army chief Milan Mojsilović said he was sent to the Kosovo border because of Vučić’s “complicated situation”. According to a presidential order, the presence of the Serbian armed forces there is to be increased from 1,500 to 5,000 soldiers.
Kosovo, with its predominantly Albanian population, declared its independence in 2008, but is still regarded by Belgrade as a breakaway province of Serbia. Despite the European Union’s mediation efforts, the neighboring countries in the Western Balkans have been at odds for years. Belgrade encourages members of the Serb minority in their attempts to defy the authority of the Kosovar government in Prishtina. Around 50,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo.
Albanian inhabited quarter blocked
Serbs in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica set up two roadblocks on Tuesday. According to the Serbian-language news portal “kossev”, one was built at the entrance to the Bošnjačka mahala district, which is inhabited by many Albanians. It consists of several trucks loaded with sand.
Kosovar police confirmed reports of the erection of another barricade on a bridge separating the neighborhood from the trunk road towards the southern Serbian town of Raška. As a reaction, numerous Albanian-language posters were put up in Mitrovica calling for a boycott of Serbian products.
Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti has meanwhile called on the NATO-led international security force KFOR to remove the barricades. Otherwise the Kosovan security forces would do it themselves. “If KFOR cannot clear the barricades or, for reasons unknown to me, does not want to, we will be forced to do so,” Kurti said, according to Kosovar media. In the past two and a half weeks, barricades have been erected on roads leading to the border crossings to Serbia.
Increased alert six times in five years
While Serbia’s claim to its former province is ineffective in the south of Kosovo, Belgrade can largely assert it in the north of the country. On the other hand, the government in Prishtina is trying to assert its claim to sovereignty throughout the country. Recently, a dispute over license plate regulations gave rise to fears that tensions would escalate into open violence. Kosovo’s head of government, Kurti, wanted to ensure that in future only Kosovar license plates would be valid in northern Kosovo, where many vehicles have Serbian license plates. The dispute was temporarily defused after mediation by the EU.
Serbian President Vučić has put the armed forces on high alert six times in the past five years. In all cases this had no consequences. Nevertheless, since last week the Federal Foreign Office has been advising against “travelling to the north of Kosovo that is not absolutely necessary”.