KFOR has closed the new road leading to Serbia; Serb hardliners cut off the barbed wire near Jarinje (Gate #1) with bulldozer, claiming they do not recognize Pristina authorities.
KFOR last night tried to block the alternative road near administrative crossing Jarinje by putting barbed wire. The Serbs later cut it off using a bulldozer, witnesses told this scribe. Many angry locals gathered near the barbed wire but no major incidents have taken place so far. The latest KFOR-Kosovo Serbs confrontation has heightened tension in the border region.
Serb hardliners barricade which leads to the border Gate #31
in Bernjak, northern Mitrovica, Kosovo. (Photo/Vedat Xhymshiti)
Branko Ninic, chairman of Leposavic municipality, said Friday night the situation at the administrative crossing at Jarinje is tense and uncertain after KFOR blocked the road. Ninic stressed local authorities are trying to bring the situation under control. He criticised KFOR’s behavior and termed it unacceptable and a breach of private property. Ninic also said that a meeting is expected to take place with KFOR on Saturday.
However, KFOR’s German contingent last night closed the alternate road at Jarinje which local Serbs had constructed to bypass the border gate and reach Serbia. KFOR Spokesman, Ralph Adametz, told reporters that KFOR would find a solution and ensure a safe environment. The Kosovo police confirmed there are attempts from citizens to open alternate roads in the north.
Krstimir Pantic, President of the municipal assembly of Serb-dominated north Mitrovica, said citizens of northern Kosovo expect the Serbian state to clearly present what they expect from Serbs in Kosovo and what would they can offer in terms of protection.
“We, as citizens’ representatives can’t take the responsibility of resolving Kosovo and Metohija’s destiny. We don’t want to do anything without our state’s consent since it is the only friend we have”, Pantic told Serb local ‘KIM’ Radio.
Pantic also underlined that Serbs have no intention to remove barricades at the three locations in the city and insisted they are ready to defend them with their own bodies. “We said to KFOR, EULEX, international community and Albanians that we are resolute not to allow the removal of barricades, we have shown that we won’t give up our aims”, said Pantic. “We have clearly said that we won’t use violence in our peaceful resistance, and we’ll defend our space exclusively with our own bodies”, the Kosovo-Serb official added.
Pristina said Thursday it could start removing Serb barricades in northern Kosovo by force as a row with Serbia over control of two flashpoint border crossings escalated. “If the pressure of Brussels on Belgrade does not work, because Belgrade is behind the barricades, we will have to coordinate with KFOR (NATO troops) and EULEX (the EU mission) to remove barricades in order to allow free movement of people in the territory,” Kosovo’s interior minister Bajram Rexhepi said.
Briefing the parliament on the tense stand off in northern Kosovo, where Serbs are maintaining over a dozen barricades in an effort to prevent Pristina establishing control on the border with Serbia, Rexhepi said the roadblocks were illegal. He said the main victims of the blockades of the main roads that connect northern Kosovo to Serbia were “ordinary citizens”.
The tense stand off between ethnic Serbs in the north and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian authorities came to a head in July when a police officer was killed as Pristina tried to seize the crossings in the middle of a trade row.
2 patrol cars to the European Mission for the rule of law in Kosovo EULEX, are seeing patrolling close to a Serb hardliners barricade which was set at the exit village, inhabited by the ethnic Albanians, in northern Mitrovica, Kosovo. (Photo/Vedat Xhymshiti)
Tensions eased after both sides reached an agreement under EU mediation to end the row, but erupted again last week when Pristina government announced it would take full control of the crossings. The announcement prompted ethnic Serbs to erect barricades and impede access to Kosovo’s border with Serbia. KFOR, EULEX and Kosovar officials from Pristina landed in helicopters at the border points.
Pristina says it wants to control the crossings but EULEX insists it is in “executive control” of the gates while “Kosovo authorities are present”. The deployment was the latest move by Pristina to assert control over northern Kosovo, populated by a large ethnic Serb majority which rejects Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
Serbs in northern Kosovo have been erecting roadblocks in a bid to prevent the passage of KFOR, EULEX and, in particular, officials appointed by the Kosovar government. Belgrade, which politically and financially supports its compatriots’ resistance to Pristina’s rule, pledged to use all political and diplomatic instruments to stop the plan.
NATO intervened against Serbia in 1999 to stop the persecution of Albanians in Kosovo and deployed around 50,000 troops in the former Serbian province. Around 6,000 NATO soldiers remain in Kosovo.