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Serb protests continue in North Kosovo

Serb protests continue in North Kosovo

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told media on Thursday that he had “begged” locals in the north of Kosovo, protesting for the fourth day in a row in front of municipal buildings in the Serb-dominated area, “in their determination to persevere in the fight for law and justice, to do so always, above all, in relation to KFOR, in a peaceful way“.

Vucic also announced that EU and US envoys Miroslav Lajcak and Gabriel Escobar will come to Serbia next week.

He spoke as locals in Zvecan/Zvecane, Zubin Potok and Leposavic/Leposaviq continued protests against newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayors who were installed last Friday under police guard.

At the same time, dozens of people have gathered in Albanian-majority South Mitrovica, after anonymous social media accounts, according to police, called on citizens to participate in a mass protest “with the intention of marching towards the North of the country”.

Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla urged citizens not to participate, claiming that according to “assessments by security institutions, this call is being spread by unknown persons and suspicious profiles on social networks”. BIRN has been told that police have opened an investigation into this case.

The new contested mayors of Zubin Potok and Zvecan/Zvecane, from the opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, have meanwhile decided to use alternative offices and not go to their municipality buildings after they met the US and EU ambassadors to Kosovo.

The new mayors of Leposavic/Leposaviq and North Mitrovica, from the ruling Vetevendosje party, are using their municipality buildings.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti repeated on Thursday that the new mayors should work from their municipality buildings.

“Serbia has parallel structures that I believe are more and more weakened,” Kurti told the media in Pristina, adding that “we cannot create parallel structures outside of the official facilities”.

On the other side, addressing Globsec forum in Bratislava, Kurti mentioned a possibility of new elections for the North.

“If they [protesters] want peaceful protests, with a request for snap elections, they have a prime minister who has been a political activist all his life and is more than willing to listen to them and maybe agree with them,” Kurti said.

People protest in Mitrovica South, June 1 2023. Photo: BIRN/Luljeta Beselica

According to the Mitrovica-based KosSev news portal, NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission deployed forces at five more points in Zvecan/Zvecane municipality, which was a request of the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party.

A video of negotiations between Srpska lista representatives Goran Rakic and Igor Simic and the US representative of KFOR shows KFOR urging the Serbian side to withdraw “people wearing masks”.

“The problem I am also having, from our experience on Monday, and my experience being here in Kosovo over the last several months – is men running around wearing masks; they have to go and not to come back. Not just here in Zvecan but all the locations that KFOR attempts to keep everyone safe,” the KFOR representative said.

Rakic said that “there are no such people”.

In total, 30 NATO troops from the KFOR peacekeeping mission and dozens of protesters were injured in violent clashes with protesting Serbs in Zvecan/Zvecane on Monday.

US ambassador in Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said after the incidents that the unrest has set back efforts to bring about a normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and announced sanctions against Kosovo.

Hovenier explained that he had asked Prime Minister Kurti to urgently withdraw police from the three contested municipal buildings in Zubin Potok, Leposavic/Leposaviq and Zvecan/Zvecane.

Local Serbs deny the legitimacy of recent elections that they boycotted en masse, and in which only 3.47 per cent of people voted.

The protests started last Friday, which was the first day of work for the newly elected mayors, when dozens of citizens and policemen were injured. The US embassy harshly criticised the Kosovo authorities for using force to get the disputed mayors into their municipal buildings.

Source: Balkans Insight