Belgrade protests ethnic Albanian intimidation of Serbs in the breakaway province
Several hundred police loyal to the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina deployed on Thursday evening in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, the Serb-majority city in the north of the breakaway province of Kosovo. The government in Belgrade has described the move as illegal and part of a train of abuses against the local Serbs.
Between 300-350 officers, including heavily armed special forces "in full war gear and with armored vehicles," entered Kosovska Mitrovica around 8:30 pm on Thursday and "literally occupied the entire city," Petar Petkovic, the Serbian government's commissioner for Kosovo, told reporters at a press conference shortly before midnight.
The presence of these officers is illegal under a 2013 deal that regulates relations between Belgrade and Pristina, said Petkovic, who blamed prime minister Albin Kurti for seeking to recklessly provoke violence. "Everyone knows that very well, but plays stupid and allows Kurti to start these dangerous actions, with the purpose of burying the Brussels Agreement."
Petkovic pointed out that the Mitrovica incursion comes on the same day as Kosovo police seized 42,000 liters of wine from a Serbian family winery in Velika Hoca - even after they offered to pay a fine for alleged tax evasion - and a day after heavily armed officers harassed children and staff at a kindergarten in Leposavic.
Serbia is now considering the return of up to 1,000 security personnel to the province, which it has been entitled to do since 1999, under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Petkovic said. He also warned "those in the West whose job is to keep Kurti in line" to understand that President Aleksandar Vucic was entirely serious when he said Serbia will not allow another pogrom in Kosovo.
A statement from Pristina said that Kosovo Police is entitled to "control the security situation and enforce the law in the entire country" and that its deployment to Mitrovica is part of "necessary, reasonable and lawful measures to enforce the law and decisions of Kosovo state bodies."
Regional police spokesman Besim Hoti told the Belgrade daily Politika that "there is no reason to worry" and that the deployment was "preventive" to ensure the safety of ethnic Albanians in the Serb-majority city.
NATO troops took control of Kosovo after bombing Serbia for 78 days in 1999. The ethnic Albanian provisional government declared independence in 2008, which Belgrade refuses to recognize.
The current tensions began at the end of July, when Kurti announced a ban on Serbian license plates, citing the Brussels Agreement. Serbia objected, saying he has failed to carry out any of the provisions of the document. Pristina backed down last month, under pressure from both the US and the EU, but Vucic said he expected more "difficult times" ahead.