Kosovo’s prime minister accuses Serbia of trying to “provoke a serious international conflict” after vehicle registration offices near the border were attacked.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti has accused neighboring Serbia of trying to “provoke a serious international conflict” after two vehicle registration offices near its border were attacked.
The rise in tension early on Saturday came on the sixth day of protests by ethnic Serbs against the decision of the ethnic Albanian-led government to require drivers with Serbian license plates to wear temporary plates when entering Kosovo.
A registry office was set on fire in the small town of Zubin Potok and another damaged in Zvecan, although there were no casualties, the prime minister said.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla wrote on Facebook that the fire that burned the vehicle registration office in Zubin Potok was carried out “by suspects of a criminal act with terrorist elements.”
Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs have blocked the Kosovo-Serbian border with trucks since Monday, angered that Kosovo sent special police to match Serbia in a license plate move that increases tensions in the Balkans.
Kosovo now removes registration plates from cars entering the country from Serbia, as Serbia does with Kosovo plates. Both force drivers to buy temporary license plates.
Serbia does not recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate nation and regards their mutual border only as a temporary border.
Serbia has put its army troops in regions near Kosovo on higher alert. State television RTS reported on Saturday that Serbian military planes flew over the border area twice during the day, prompting cheers from protesting Serbs.
On Friday, Serbian army helicopters were also seen flying over the area, Al Jazeera’s Boris Gagic reported.
“Individuals and groups, whose activities endanger the rule of law and public order, are attacking our state and disturbing our peace,” Kurti said on his Facebook account on Saturday.
“Serbia is clearly cheering and supporting them,” he added. “Serbia abuses the citizens of Kosovo to provoke a serious international conflict.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has described the recent Kosovo license plate move as a “criminal act”, and made the withdrawal of all Kosovo special police a condition of EU-mediated negotiations to resolve the dispute.
But after the incidents on Saturday, the Kosovo government did not appear willing to withdraw the special police.
“These criminal acts show better what would have happened to the border crossings in Jarinje and Brnjak unless special forces were sent there to ensure public order and security,” Svecla, the interior minister, wrote on Facebook.
The European Union and the United States have urged Kosovo and Serbia to act immediately with restraint and refrain from unilateral action.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani asked the world “not to ignore what (is) being clearly seen: a Russian-Serbian tendency to harm the European Union and NATO” by increasing tensions in the Balkans.
“It is time for the international community, and first and foremost the EU and NATO member countries, to see such danger and prevent the Vucic regime from achieving its goal of creating the ‘Serbian world’,” he wrote on Facebook, while I was in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.
A bloody 1998-1999 crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo’s Albanian separatists ended after a NATO intervention, and Kosovo declared independence in 2008.
It has been recognized by the United States and other Western nations, but not by Serbia and its allies Russia and China.
Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including US troops, are still deployed in Kosovo, trying to avoid lingering ethnic tensions between the majority of Kosovo Albanians and the minority of Kosovo Serbs.