Thursday, 28 September, 2023

EU tells Kosovo, Serbia leaders to calm tensions

EU tells Kosovo, Serbia leaders to calm tensions

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to immediately de-escalate tensions Tuesday, after "absolutely unacceptable" clashes in northern Kosovo.

Violence sparked by disputed municipal elections left 30 soldiers from a NATO-led peacekeeping force injured on Monday after clashes with ethnic Serbs protesters.

Borrell said he had spoken to Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Alexander Vucic to tell them to avoid any "further unilateral action".

"I asked both parties to urgently take measures to de-escalate tensions immediately and unconditionally," he said.

Borrell said Kosovo's authorities needed to suspend police operations focused on municipal buildings in north Kosovo and ethnic Serb protesters should stand down.

He warned the EU was "discussing possible measures to be taken if the parties continue to resist proposed steps towards de-escalation."

Serbs -- who account for about six percent of Kosovo's population -- boycotted last month's elections in northern towns where they are in a majority, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a minuscule turnout of under 3.5 percent of voters.

Many Serbs are demanding the withdrawal of Kosovo police forces, as well as the ethnic Albanian mayors they do not consider their representatives.

Tensions flared after Serbs tried to force their way into the Zvecan town hall on Monday, but were repelled as Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

NATO peacekeepers tried to separate protesters from the police, but later started to disperse the crowd using shields and batons. Protesters responded by hurling rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the soldiers.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade and its allies Beijing and Moscow have refused to recognise it, effectively preventing Kosovo from having a seat at the United Nations.

Serbs in Kosovo remain largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north, where they make up a majority and reject every move by Pristina to consolidate its control over the region.