Province of ZVECAN, Kosovo~ Monday saw violent clashes between ethnic Serbs and police at a municipal building in northern Kosovo as the Serbs attempted to seize control of a local commune from the ethnic Albanian mayors who had been installed there with the support of the authorities the week before. This current outbreak of violence comes after a week of heightened tensions, during which Serbia put its military on high alert and deployed additional troops to the border with Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008.
Belgrade’s refusal to acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty has put the province at odds with Serbia for decades. Fearing greater instability in Europe as Russia’s war rages in Ukraine, the United States and the European Union have stepped up their efforts to help resolve the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. The EU has made it clear to both Serbia and Kosovo that they must improve relations in order to go on with membership ambitions.
Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Mitrovica were among the municipalities that held early elections last month, and on Monday, Kosovar police and the NATO-led Kosovo Force, or KFOR, were seen guarding the municipal buildings in those four municipalities. Ethnic Serbs, who make up a sizable majority in certain regions, mostly avoided them. Municipal leadership and legislative bodies are dominated by ethnic Albanian and other members of smaller minority groups. On the heels of last week’s violent battles, which left more than a dozen Serbs and five Kosovar police officers injured, Serbian troops were placed on high alert along the border with Kosovo.
There was an attempt to prevent newly elected ethnic Albanian politicians from entering municipal facilities by the majority ethnic Serb population in northern Kosovo. To clear the way for the new authorities to enter their offices, police in Kosovo used tear gas to disperse the gathering. Forcibly entering municipal buildings with police was strongly criticised by the United States and the European Union.
France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union (EU) issued a statement on Sunday evening in which they warned “all parties against other threats or actions which could impact on a safe and secure environment, including freedom of movement, and that could inflame tensions or promote conflict.”
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