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21st Feb 2024

Hundreds more Serb police join 'dangerous' Kosovo boycott

  • Northern Kosovo: Almost 600 local ethnic-Serb police had walked out as of Monday (Photo: morbin)
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Hundreds more Kosovar-Serb police have resigned in northern Kosovo in a rolling protest that risks looking like de facto secession.

The total number of officers handing in their badges, cuffs, and weapons grew to 578 on Monday (7 November), the Kosovo Police said, after 300 or so resignations on Sunday.

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Employees of a private security firm, Balkan International, who were guarding an EU office in the Serb-majority town of North Mitrovica have also resigned, Eulex, the EU police mission in Kosovo, said.

The mass walkouts forced Kosovo Police to move other units into the restive North Mitrovica area "due to the lack of [local] personnel and sufficient police capacity".

Eulex also "further increased its mobile reconnaissance patrols in northern Kosovo" by a 105-man strong unit and "ensured security presence" at the EU office in the hotspot.

"If needed, the mission [Eulex] can deploy an additional Reserve Formed Police Unit to further enhance its forces on the ground," it said.

But it "has not taken over police responsibilities in northern Kosovo" from national police, it underlined. The 14 Serbs working in Eulex have also not resigned, it said.

Protests began when an ethnic-Serb police commander walked out last week over refusing to replace Serb car number plates with Kosovar ones, in line with a new law.

Malcontent Serbs in the northern enclave also want self-rule via the creation of an association of Serb municipalities (ASM) with devolved powers.

The angry mood is being fuelled by nationalist rhetoric from Belgrade and by Russian disinformation.

The resignations also include the mayors of four Serb areas on the border with Serbia, local judges and prosecutors, and all 10 Serb MPs in Pristina's parliament, in what amounts to an almost full split from central authorities.

But ethnic Serbs in six southern areas of Kosovo have stayed quiet for now.

There have been no inter-ethnic clashes in northern Kosovo either, but the cars of some Serbs who did switch plates have been set on fire, in what the EU foreign service called a "very dangerous situation" on Monday.

"If the escalation continues, no one can rule out a flare up in violence," an EU spokesman said.

This could have "serious consequences" for the entire region, he warned, amid longstanding threats by Serbs in Bosnia to split from federal authorities and opt for self rule.

The EU spokesman urged both sides in Kosovo to display a "more European behaviour".

He also urged Pristina to create the ASM in line with the promises of its previous governments, even though Kosovo's current prime minister, Albin Kurti, sees it as a threat to Kosovo's territorial integrity.

"This is a binding legal obligation for Kosovo and continued failure to do so, undermines the principle of rule of law in Kosovo and damages Kosovo's reputation," the EU spokesman said.

Kosovo split from Serbia in a war ended by Nato bombing of Serbian forces in 1999.

It declared independence in 2008 and wants to join the EU, but five EU states, as well as Serbia and Russia, don't recognise its sovereignty and its people don't even have EU visa-free travel yet.

Nato still has a force of some 3,600 soldiers in Kosovo called Kfor, which would intervene as a last resort if national authorities and Eulex could not cope.

"Kfor remains vigilant and there has been no change in its force posture," it said in a statement on Tuesday. "It is essential that all parties maintain dialogue with each other for the sake of security in Kosovo and stability in the region," it added.

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