Kosovo 'open' to new municipal elections in the north

AFP , Tuesday 6 Jun 2023

Kosovo is open to holding new elections in four northern municipalities where the appointment of ethnic Albanian mayors led to unrest and clashes, Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz said on Tuesday.

NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers, wearing full riot gear, stand behind a barbed wire perimeter around the municipal building in Zvecan, northern Kosovo, following clashes with Serb protesters demanding the removal of recently elected Albanian Mayors on June 2, 2023. Ethnic Serbs gathered again in a flashpoint town in north Kosovo on June 2, 2023 at the site of clashes earlier this week with NATO-led forces, as Pristina and Belgrade came under mounting international pressure to defuse tensions. AFP


"We are open to new elections in those four municipalities," she said.

Protests had flared among Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority in April after the authorities installed Pristina-allied mayors following widely boycotted local elections in northern areas.

Over 30 peacekeepers from NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) were injured in clashes with Serbian protesters late last month, prompting the alliance to send in reinforcements.

Gervalla-Schwarz said, however, that "to have new elections we need steps in between because declaring new elections when the other side is declaring it will boycott them again does not make sense".

She blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for having a role in the clashes in his bid to change "the reality of the Balkans".

"It is the will of the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to make Kosovo unstable," said Gervalla-Schwarz.

"I'm very convinced that this violence is not linked to these four municipalities, not to these elections," she added.

Kosovo is mainly populated by ethnic Albanians, but the Serbs who make up around six percent of the population have remained largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north where they are a majority.

Kosovo's ethnic Serb minority boycotted April local elections in the north, allowing ethnic Albanians to take control of local councils despite a turnout of less than 3.5 percent.

"We condemn this violence and at the same time we show (we are) open... to find ways how we can not only stop this violence now but at the same time to take steps to prevent violence in the future," said Gervalla-Schwarz.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade -- along with its allies China and Russia -- still does not recognise the move, preventing Kosovo from having a seat at the United Nations.

Speaking in Prague after meeting her Czech counterpart Jan Lipavsky, Gervalla-Schwarz said Kosovo was "fully aligned with the West" and was hoping to join the European Union as soon as possible.

She added Kosovo was also on the West's side in condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and called Vucic "a proxy" of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Balkans.

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