28th Sep 2023

Ethnic clashes on Kosovo-Serb border cause EU alarm

  • Nato is helping to keep the peace in the Serb exclave of North Mitrovica (Photo: jonworth-eu)
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Kosovo has put off new border rules with Serbia following another flare-up in ethnic violence.

Kosovar authorities said shots were fired "in the direction of police units but fortunately no one was wounded" on Sunday (31 July).

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Serbian protesters in North Mitrovica, a majority-Serb town inside Kosovo, also beat up Albanian people and attacked cars, Kosovo police added. And they blocked access to the Jarinje and Bernjak border-crossing points by parking lorries full of gravel on the roads.

The events were a repeat of last autumn, when Kosovo scrambled special police and Serbia flew warplanes near the border in a dispute about licence plates.

And they showed how quickly violence can escalate in the region despite over two decades of EU and US peace-building.

"The overall security situation in the Northern municipalities of Kosovo is tense," Kfor, a Nato-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, said in a statement on Sunday.

And Nato soldiers were "prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardised," it added.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić was one of "the main responsible persons for the riots," Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti also said, accusing his neighbour of stirring instability.

"We've never been in a more complex situation than today," Vučić said.

As with last year, Sunday's violence broke out after Kurti said Kosovar Serbs must use Kosovar car licences and Kosovar ID cards when crossing into Kosovo from Serbia in recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty.

The measures were due to enter into force from 1 August but will now go into effect on 1 September, Kurti said.

The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, welcomed the delay. "Expect all roadblocks to be removed immediately," he said on Sunday.

He also urged Vučić and Kurti to resolve the matter in ongoing EU-mediated talks.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but has made little progress on EU enlargement, not least because five EU states, in addition to Serbia, do not recognise its sovereignty.

Serbia is in the middle of EU accession talks, but has close ties to Moscow — it has declined to match Western sanctions on Russia, while stockpiling Russian weapons in recent years.

It has also started going backwards in terms of media freedom and civil liberties on Vučić's watch, EU enlargement reports note.

And for its part, Russia's foreign ministry poured kerosene on the fire Sunday by claiming that ethnic Serbs were being denied their rights in Kosovo.

"Such a development of events is more evidence of the failure of the mediation mission of the European Union," Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is on an EU blacklist on grounds of spreading propaganda, said.

"This is also an example of what place Serbia has been prepared for in the European Union by offering Belgrade to de facto put up with the lack of rights of its compatriots [inside Kosovo]," she said.

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