Kosovo PM accuses Serbia of organising clashes

AFP , Friday 2 Jun 2023

Kosovo's prime minister on Friday accused Serbia of orchestrating clashes between ethnic Serbs and NATO-led peacekeepers amid intensified Western pressure on both Belgrade and Pristina to ease tensions.

People hold a giant Serbian flag during a protest in the town of Zvecan, northern Kosovo
People hold a giant Serbian flag during a protest in the town of Zvecan, northern Kosovo, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. AP


More than 80 people, including 30 peacekeepers, were injured in a north Kosovo town on Monday when NATO-led KFOR troops clashed with ethnic Serb protesters who threw rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails.

"The escalation of the situation on May 29 was planned, well-organised and had an author," Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told the lawmakers in parliament.

"The author is official Belgrade."

Kurti accused Serbia of having "mobilised criminal groups" to provoke the clashes and said many Kosovo Serbs were "forced (by Belgrade) to serve as human shields for such criminal attacks".

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

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

Since Monday's clashes in Zvecan, hundreds of ethnic Serbs have gathered daily in front of the town hall which is sealed off with barbed wire and encircled by KFOR troops in full riot gear.

But, Kurti estimated that the rallies are held upon orders from Belgrade.

He did not announce any concrete measure to ease tensions.

On Thursday, French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after meeting Belgrade and Pristina leaders on the sidelines of a summit that they had urged Kosovo to allow new elections in four disputed northern municipalities.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged both Pristina and Belgrade to dial down the tensions, warning they were putting their aspirations of European integration at risk.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had talked with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about the "irresponsible behaviour of Pristina institutions".

"We want peace, not tear gas and shock bombs" and "We are not criminals, we just want freedom", read some of the banners carried by the protesters on Friday in front of the Zvecan town hall.

Municipal employees want Kosovo special police to immediately leave the town hall so they can return to work, their representative Natasa Aksentijevic said.

"We want peace to reign here ... and that the fake mayor does not come to our Zvecan since we didn't elect him," she told reporters.

Serbs, who make up around six percent of Kosovo's majority-ethnic Albanian population, have remained largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north where they are a majority.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade -- along with allies China and Russia -- still do not recognise the move.

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