Serbia puts army on high alert after ethnic clashes in Kosovo
Representatives of the Serbian minority in Kosovo tried on Friday to prevent the newly elected mayor of the northern city of Zvecan from entering the municipality. Serbs, densely inhabiting the region, boycotted the April elections and did not recognize their results. Activists promised not to let new mayor Ilir Peci and other Albanians who won the elections into office.
The police engaged in a confrontation with the protesters, using stun grenades and tear gas, writes Bloomberg, citing local media. Peci told KosovaPress he found the office “everything is under control in the building” although “there is some dissatisfaction in the street.”
In turn, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic ordered the army to be put on high alert, and some units moved closer to the border with Kosovo. Defense Minister Milos Vucevic described the situation in Kosovo as “dramatic”.
Vučić sent troops to the border with Kosovo last year as well. In August, in a country whose independence is still not recognized in Belgrade, riots broke out after the government’s decision to replace the car numbers of Serbs living in the country with Kosovo numbers (the numbers were issued by the Serbian authorities). Some 50,000 ethnic Serbs protested by building barricades and blocking roads, and clashes with the police broke out. In November, the European Union helped resolve the conflict: the Kosovo authorities dropped the renumbering requirement, and Serbia agreed not to issue signs for Kosovo cities.
The current riots in Zvecan are the first major ones this year. A contingent of 3,800 NATO peacekeepers is stationed in Kosovo to prevent the unrest from turning into an armed conflict.