Kosovo deploys police, Serbs protest amid border tension
BELGRADE (AP) — Tensions rose Monday at Kosovo’s border. Kosovo deployed riot police, while Serbs protested a decision by Kosovo authorities to remove Serbian license plates from vehicles entering the country.
Kosovo sent special police with armored cars to the border, while hundreds of Kosovo Serbs drove up the road to the border in their trucks and cars, blocking the roads to the crossing points.
Serbian media reported that the Kosovo police used tear gas against the protestors. These reports cannot be independently verified.
Serbia does not recognize the former Kosovo province as a separate country and views the mutual border as only an “administrative” boundary.
Thousands of people were killed and over 1 million were left homeless after a 1998-1999 bloody crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists. NATO intervened and the war was over. The Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. The United States and other Western countries have recognized it, but not Serbia and its allies Russia or China.
Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers including U.S. soldiers are still stationed in Kosovo to try and end ethnic tensions between the majority Kosovo Albanians (Kosovar Serbs) and their minorities. Aleksandar Vucic, the populist president of Serbia, said that Serbs in Kosovo today suffered “one of the worst days” following what he described as a “brutal attack” by Kosovo police. He called for NATO troops to help the Serbs.
“They believe that our patience will never end,” he said to reporters in Belgrade. “We will know how we can protect our country,” he said to reporters in Belgrade.
Vucic stated that the Serbian response would not be by force but “economical and political.”
Serbian authorities have been taking registration plates from Kosovo registered cars that enter Serbia for many years. The latest action by Kosovo authorities seems to be a titfor-tat move. Officials from
Kosovo said that as of Monday, temporary license plates will be issued to Serbia and that additional police had been deployed to enforce the “reciprocity” action.
Kosovo Prime Minster Albin Kurti stated that Serbia was the first country to issue temporary license plates. He said that Kosovo’s decision to impose temporary license plates doesn’t restrict freedom of movement and wasn’t against Serbs.
” We didn’t request the temporary plates, but the other party imposed them.” he stated. “As long as our citizens must pay for the plates when they enter Serbia, they will be used on entry into Kosovo as well.”
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano urged both Kosovo and Serbia to “immediately, without any delay” exercise restraint and refrain from unilateral actions.
“Freedom to move is one of the cornerstones the European Union. As such, we expect Serbia and Kosovo to encourage freedom of movement in the area,” Stano said in Brussels.
The two sides reached an agreement in 2016 through European Union-mediated negotiations to allow traffic. Officials from Kosovo claimed that the agreement was no longer valid and that only the proper symbols of Kosovo are allowed to be used in the territory.
Belgrade’s Vucic called an urgent meeting of the state security council on Tuesday after Serb officials from Kosovo demanded assistance.
The latest move by the top Kosovo Serb official Goran Rakic was described as a “direct threat” to Serbs in Kosovo. He said they had informed Miroslav Lajcak, the EU mediator, and other international officials of the developments.
“This protest is a response by people who are concerned about their future, their kids and their families,” stated Rakic.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.