ZVECAN, Kosovo (AP) — Serbs in northern Kosovo tried Monday to seize local government buildings where Albanian mayors entered last week with the help of police.
Kosovar police and the NATO-led Kosovo Force were seen guarding the municipality building in Zvecan, one of four communes that held early elections last month that was largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs. Only representatives of ethnic Albanians or other smaller minorities were elected to mayoral positions and assemblies.
More than a dozen Serbs and five Kosovar policemen were injured in clashes last Friday, and Serb troops on the Kosovo border went on high alert the same day.
Ethnic Serbs from northern Kosovo, who are the majority in that part of the country, tried to prevent newly elected ethnic Albanian officials from entering municipal buildings. Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and allow the new officials to enter the offices.
The United States and the European Union condemned the Kosovo government for using police to break into municipal buildings.
On Sunday night, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, as well as the United States and the European Union in Kosovo, again issued a statement emphatically warning “all parties against further threats or actions that could affect a safe and secure environment. , including freedom of movement, and which could inflame tensions or promote conflict”.
At a rally Friday night in Belgrade with his supporters, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that “Serbia will not stand idly by the moment Serbs in northern Kosovo are attacked.”
However, any attempt by Serbia to send its troops across the border would mean a confrontation with the NATO troops stationed there.
A 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement on the formation of the Serb association was later declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court, which said the plan did not include other ethnicities and could involve the use of executive powers to impose laws.
The two sides tentatively agreed to back an EU plan on how to proceed, but tensions are still simmering.
The United States and the EU have intensified their efforts to help resolve the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, fearing further instability in Europe as the war continues in Ukraine. The EU has made it clear to both Serbia and Kosovo that they must normalize relations in order to advance their intentions to join the bloc.
The conflict in Kosovo erupted in 1998 when ethnic Albanian separatists rebelled against the Serbian government, and Serbia responded with a brutal crackdown. Some 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians. NATO military intervention in 1999 finally forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory. Washington and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.