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20th Apr 2018

Sweden urges EU to take control of north Kosovo problem

  • North Mitrovica - Sweden and the EU institutions see a big role for Pristina in ending the violence (Photo: jonworth-eu)

Sweden has said the EU should put pressure on Pristina to improve relations with Serbs in north Kosovo following three months of escalating violence.

Foreign minister Carl Bildt sent a letter to EU institutions on 17 November after visiting the Serb-controlled town of north Mitrovica, which he described as "more tense and more divided today than it has been for a very long time."

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The letter - seen by EUobserver - says the European External Action Service and the European Commission should "launch a structured dialogue with Pristina on the issue of the north." He added: "While we must be firm in rejecting any notion of partition, we should also be realistic enough to admit that there will be no easy solution to overcoming an existing division that is currently growing stronger and more hostile by the day."

For its part, the commission has invited Pristina to put forward a "comprehensive agenda" to pacify the region.

The feeling in Brussels is that Pristina should come up with a home grown plan for winning Serb hearts and minds the way it has done in south Kosovo, instead of launching a new EU-led process on the sensitive subject.

The EU says Belgrade is doing its best to end the frozen conflict, but it has lost control of the municipal authorities and criminal gangs that run the territory.

Serb interior minister Ivica Dacic shocked Brussels last week when he said Belgrade should be ready to go to "war" over north Kosovo. The commission on Monday (28 November) urged him to be "more responsible." But the EU does not consider Dacic - a nationalist who previously worked for Slobodan Milosevic - to be a serious player in the Serb government.

Violence broke out in July when Nato-backed Kosovar special forces launched an operation to take over border crossing points between north Kosovo and Serbia.

A Serb sniper at the time shot dead a Kosovar Albanian policeman - 22-year-old father-of-four Enver Zymbari - fuelling belief in Kosovo that Kosovar Serb paramilitaries get weapons and training from Belgrade in a bid to keep Kosovo divided.

Kosovar Serb protesters on Monday morning again used live ammunition, lightly wounding two Nato soldiers at a roadblock in Jagnjenica. Nato responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Last week, around 20 Nato soldiers were hurt, one seriously, by Serb rock-throwers.

Bildt's statement - that partition of Kosovo is out of the question but the EU should be "realistic" there will be "no easy solution" - comes amid increasing chatter by Western diplomats that some form of autonomy for north Kosovo might be the answer. Peter Feith, the representative in Pristina of the US and the 22 EU countries that recognise Kosovo, in an interview with EUobserver in September mentioned Catalonia in Spain as a model.

Autonomy for north Kosovo could open a Pandora's Box of new claims in the war-scarred Balkans, however. Ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, as well as ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and in the Presevo Valley in Serbia, are looking at north Kosovo as a potential precedent for expanding self-rule.

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