Serbs put up new roadblocks as tensions soar in Kosovo
MITROVICA, Kosovo — Serbs on Tuesday erected more roadblocks in northern Kosovo and defied international demands to remove those placed earlier, a day after Serbia put its troops near the border on a high level of combat readiness. The new barriers were built from heavily loaded trucks in Mitrovica, a northern Kosovo village divided between Kosovo Serbs (who represent the majority of Kosovo) and ethnic Albanians (who represent the majority in Kosovo).
This was the first time that Serbs had blocked roads in one of the main towns since the crisis. Barricades were previously placed on roads leading to the Kosovo/Serbia border.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has said he ordered the army’s highest state of alert to “protect our people (in Kosovo) and preserve Serbia.”
He claimed that Pristina is preparing to “attack” Kosovo Serbs in the north of the country and remove by force several of the roadblocks that Serbs started putting up 18 days ago to protest the arrest of a former Kosovo Serb police officer.
Vucic addressed reporters Tuesday with the help of Porfirije, the Serbian Patriarch. He was prevented by Kosovo authorities from entering Kosovo to visit a medieval Serb church before Serbian Orthodox Christmas which is celebrated on January. 7.
Vucic attacked the West and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian officials of conspiring to “trigger unrest” and kill the Serbs who are guarding the barricades.
“They want to expel Serbia from Kosovo… with their agents in Belgrade,” Vucic said. He was apparently referring to the few opposition and independent media that have been critical of his handling the Kosovo crisis and his increasingly autocratic policy.
Nevertheless, he said that he is currently negotiating with European Union and U.S. mediators “on preserving peace and finding a compromise solution” for the current crisis.
Serbian Prime Minster Ana Brnabic refused to comment Tuesday on claims that Serbia sent into Kosovo a group of armed men, who are likely manning the barricades.
“She refused to discuss the matter with a reporter when she was asked if she knew if “Serbia’s armed forces” were present in Kosovo.
Kosovo officials accused Vucic, of using Serbia’s media to create trouble and trigger events that could be used as a pretext to an armed intervention within the former Serbian province.
Petar Petkovic was a Serbian official responsible for contacts with Kosovo Serbs. He claimed that the combat readiness of Serb soldiers was created because Kosovo had done the exact same thing.
He stated that heavily armed Kosovo units wanted to attack Kosovo Serbs. This included “women and the elderly, children, and men.” Our people at the barricades defend the right to life. “
Kosovo asked NATO-led peacekeepers to remove the barriers. He also hinted that Pristina will take over if the KFOR force does not respond. About 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo since the 1999 war, which ended with Belgrade losing control over the territory.
Any Serbian armed intervention in Kosovo would likely result in a clash with NATO forces and would mean a major escalation of tensions in the Balkans, which are still reeling from the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Tensions between Kosovo, which declared independence after a war in 2008, and Serbia have reached their peak over the past month. Western attempts to reach an agreement have failed with Serbia refusing recognition of Kosovo’s statehood.
KFOR, the EU and Pristina have asked each other to be more restrained and refrain from provocations.
Kosovo remains a potential flashpoint in the Balkans years after the 1998-99 Kosovo war that ended with a NATO intervention that pushed Serbian troops out of the former Serbian province.
Dusan Stojanovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia.
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