Kosovo to partially withdraw special police officers from northern Serb-majority municipalities

Kosovo’s government has decided to reduce by one-fourth the number of special police officers and also hold new mayoral elections in four Serb-majority municipalities

Florent Bajrami,Llazar Semini
Wednesday 12 July 2023 12:44 BST
Serbia Kosovo Tensions
Serbia Kosovo Tensions

Kosovo’s government on Wednesday will reduce the number of special police officers stationed outside four municipal buildings in ethnic Serb-majority areas and hold new mayoral elections in each of the towns, in a bid to defuse tensions with neighboring Serbia that flared anew in May.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that one-fourth of the special police forces would be moved away from the sites “taking into consideration that the situation at the municipal buildings has been comparatively much quieter in the last two weeks.” He added that more officers would be withdrawn based on the continuous evaluation of the situation.

It wasn't immediately clear when the reductions would take place, and where the officers would be reassigned to.

Serbia's government and Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs want special police forces to leave the northern area, while Pristina says the number will be gradually reduced.

Kurti said the government would make a formal statement on holding new elections in the four municipalities, which have an ethnic Serb-majority population.

“For that it is necessary to create a proper environment to make possible holding of the (electoral) campaign, political pluralism, participation of the local communities and also guaranteeing vote inviolability,” he added.

The decisions were made after Kurti's deputy met with European Union envoy Miroslav Lajčák in Bratislava, Slovakia, earlier this week, according to Kurti.

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo boycotted mayoral elections in the four municipalities in April as part of a campaign for greater autonomy, and they now object to the ethnic Albanian mayors chosen in the polls. Neighboring Serbia has backed calls for the mayors to step down.

When new Albanian mayors, who were elected with few participating Albanian votes, took office in late May ethnic Serbs tried to block their entrance and violently enter the public buildings sparking clashes which left at least 30 international peacekeepers and more than 50 ethnic Serbs injured.

The EU has called on Pristina and Belgrade to de-escalate the situation. Brussels has made it clear that the normalization of the Kosovo-Serbia ties would serve not only regional peace and stability, but also their prospects of future integration into the 27-member bloc.

The EU and also the United States fear the recent flare-up of the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia threaten to push the Balkan region into instability amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Kurti said he would be ready to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for talks on the implementation of the de-escalation efforts and resume implementation of the already agreed upon deal on the normalization of their ties.

Four months ago, Vučić and Kurti gave their tacit approval to a EU-sponsored plan to end animosity and help improve their ties in the longer term.

But the agreement unraveled almost immediately as both leaders appeared to renege on their commitments.

Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, recognized by Washington and most EU nations, while Russia and China have backed Belgrade’s claim on the territory.

The 1998-99 conflict that left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovar Albanians, erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999 forced Serbia to relinquish control, but the government in Belgrade has maintained that Kosovo remains part of Serbia.


Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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