Europe’s biggest economies and the United States have criticized Kosovo for escalating tensions with Serbia after Pristina used force to secure access to municipal buildings in the northern Balkan country near the border Serbian.
On Friday, police used tear gas in the town of Zvecan to disperse a crowd of ethnic Serbs trying to prevent a newly elected Albanian mayor from entering his building.
The violence triggered an immediate reaction from Serbia, whose President Aleksandr Vui placed his army on high alert and ordered military units to move closer to the border with Kosovo.
Washington was quick to condemn Pristina for using violence and worsening relations with Serbia. Tensions between the two countries have persisted since the brutal Balkan War in the late 1990s after Kosovo attempted to secede from Serbia. Kosovo gained independence in 2008, but many Serbs in the northern regions of the country still consider Belgrade their capital, complicating relations between neighboring countries.
The United States strongly condemns the actions of the Kosovo government to forcibly gain access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo, actions it took against the advice of the United States and Kosovo’s European partners, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement.
These actions have sharply and unnecessarily escalated tensions, undermining our efforts to help normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia and will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo, he continued. We call on Prime Minister Albin Kurti to back down and on all parties to refrain from any further actions that may inflame tensions and foster conflict.
The United States also issued a joint statement with France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, reprimanding the actions of Kosovo authorities. They also expressed their concern over Serbia’s decision to raise the level of readiness of its armed forces on the border with Kosovo and called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric.
Pickets in Zvecan were protesting the outcome of a poll in April that the Kosovo Serb majority had boycotted in four northern municipalities near the Serbian border because their calls for more autonomy had been ignored.
Local Serbs refuse to work with the four new mayors, who come from ethnic Albanian parties. Kosovo police accused ethnic Serbs of throwing rocks and attacking four of their vehicles and gunshots were also heard, according to Reuters.
NATO has urged talks between the two sides to settle the issue. We urge Kosovo’s institutions to immediately de-escalate and call on all parties to resolve the situation through dialogue, defense alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a tweet. The NATO Force in Kosovo remains vigilant and will ensure a safe and secure environment, she added.
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