The situation in Kosovo is “on the brink of armed conflicts,” Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabic said Wednesday, amid mounting tensions in former Belgrade province’s volatile north.
“We have to give our best, all of us together, to try to keep the peace. We are really on the brink of armed conflicts, thanks to unilateral moves from Pristina,” Brnabic said during a meeting with Serbian NGOs.
Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade still does not recognize it and encourages the territory’s Serbs to defy Pristina’s authority.
Hundreds of ethnic Serbs, outraged over the arrest of an ex-police officer, set up roadblocks on December 10 in the Serb-majority northern Kosovo that have paralyzed traffic through two border crossings with Serbia.
Just hours after the barricades were erected, police said they suffered three successive firearm attacks on one of the roads leading to the border.
European Union police deployed in the region as part of the rule of law mission EULEX said they were also targeted with a stun grenade, but no officers were injured.
Last week, Belgrade asked NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo (KFOR) to allow the return of Serbian military and police to its breakaway province, but Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said it was “almost certain… that it will not be accepted.”
Tensions mounted after Kosovo scheduled local elections in Serb-majority municipalities for December 18 and the main Serb political party said it would stage a boycott.
Shortly after the barricades were set up, Kosovo president Vjosa Osmani announced that the elections will be postponed until April.
Despite the situation not having further escalated since, tensions are still high owing to a security vacuum after local Serbs collectively resigned from official posts in protest at Kosovo’s decision to replace Belgrade-issued car license plates with ones from Pristina.
KFOR said they have deployed “additional troops and patrols” to northern Kosovo this week, adding that they have been reinforcing their presence in the region since October.
“KFOR has full capability, including personnel, to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities, everywhere in Kosovo,” the peacekeeping mission said on Facebook.
Amid the turbulence, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti last week submitted Pristina’s application for EU membership.
Serbs account for about 120,000 of Kosovo’s 1.8 million population.