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EU foreign policy chief warns of 'dangerous situation' in Kosovo as tensions escalate

NATO’s peacekeeping force (KFOR) clash with Serbs protesting in front of a municipal building in Zvecan, northern Kosovo on May 29, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned of “dangerous situation" in northern Kosovo as tensions with Serbs rise.

Borell made the remarks in a meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Global security Conference in Bratislava, Slovakia.

After the meeting, Borrell called for “urgent de-escalation and a solution through Dialogue to return to our work to implement the Agreement reached.”

On his Twitter account, he called the current situation in the north of Kosovo “dangerous and unsustainable.”

Met Prime Minister @albinkurti in Bratislava to discuss the tensions in the north of #Kosovo.

The current situation is dangerous and unsustainable.

We need urgent de-escalation and a solution through the Dialogue to return to our work on implementing the Agreement reached.

— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) May 31, 2023

Local Serbs in the towns of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok have protested against the new Albanian mayors, elected on 23 April, amid a boycott by the Serbian population.

Tensions in the north of Kosovo further increased last Friday when the mayors of the three municipalities removed the Serbian flag and replaced it with a flag of Kosovo.

Borell in a separately published statement on Tuesday urged the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to immediately de-escalate tensions after what he called “absolutely unacceptable” clashes in northern Kosovo in recent days.

“The EU expects the Parties to act responsibly and engage immediately in the EU-facilitated Dialogue to find a sustainable solution to the situation in the north of Kosovo that guarantees safety and security for all citizens and paves the way for the implementation of the new Agreement on Path to Normalization,” Borrell said in his statement.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Serb protesters gathered outside Zvecan town hall.

Among the protesters, Dragisa Milovic, former Zvecan Mayor demanded the release of arrested Serbs, Rados Petrovic and Dusan Obrenovic from prison. “We are here to support them and will remain here until our demands are met,” Milovic said.

Meanwhile, NATO’s peacekeeping force (KFOR) ramped up its presence after violent clashes in the area, which left 30 NATO soldiers and 52 Serb citizens injured on Monday.

The clashes erupted as ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo were trying to take over the offices of one of the municipalities where ethnic Albanian mayors took up their posts last week.

Serbs, who form a majority in Kosovo’s north, have never accepted its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital.

In April this year, Serbs refused to take part in local elections and boycotted the vote, leaving ethnic Albanian candidates win the mayoral races in four Serb-majority municipalities with a 3.5 percent turnout.

In Zvecan, the site of Monday’s violence, the Albanian mayor won the election by barely more than 100 votes, prompting cries that his authority is illegitimate and Kosovo government has to return the administrators to their duties.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy by EU mediators, in March, Kosovo and Serbia stopped short of signing a potential landmark deal to normalize their relations.

The US and the EU have been supporters of Kosovo's independence. However, Pristina has been denied a seat at the United Nations due to the objections raised by Serbia and supported by its main ally Russia.

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