Kosovo Serbs block the road near the village of Rudine, North Mitrovica, Kosovo December 10, 2022. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani announced on Saturday that local elections scheduled for Dec. 18 in four northern areas with a predominantly ethnic Serb population would be delayed until April 23 as Serbs said they would boycott the polls.
According to the Kosovo police department, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs erected barricades, blocking the north’s main roads at two major border crossings, protesting the arrest of a former policeman of Serb ethnicity suspected of involvement in attacks on Kosovo police.
"Serbia has instructed its illegal structures to set up barricades in the [of] north Kosovo. Belgrade bears the full responsibility for any escalation," said Blerim Vela, Kosovo's presidential chief of staff on Twitter.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that he will formally request NATO permission to deploy Serbian troops in northern Kosovo to respond to the brewing crisis. Though, Vucic admitted it is unlikely that his request would be approved. “I have no illusions and I know that they will turn down such request,” he said at a news conference on Saturday.
In 1999, NATO forces bombed Serbia for 78 days to force them out of Kosovo and end the 1998-99 war in which approximately 13,000 people died.
Kosovo officially declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, however, Belgrade, with ally support from China and Russia, alongside ethic Serbs in the north refuse to recognize its sovereignty.
The election in Northern Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and Leposavic was scheduled after ethnic Serb representatives and an estimated 600 police officers resigned their posts in November to protest Kosovo’s decision to ban Serbia-issued vehicle license plates and replace them with ones issued by Pristina.
Brokered by the EU brokered with help from the U.S., Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement in which Serbia would stop issuing license plates now used in Kosovo and Kosovo’s government would end their efforts to deny the re-registration of vehicles. Still, tensions remain high and continue to be further inflamed.
Kosovo Police reported several incidents of gunshots and explosions in the municipalities of Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica on Dec. 6, while noting suspects were using dangerous tools including Yugoslav-made hand grenades.
On Saturday, Kosovo police exchanged gunfire with Kosovo Serbs blocking the roads. "Police units, in self-defense, were forced to respond with firearms to the criminals who were repulsed and run in unknown directions," said Kosovo police.
The European Union has warned both Kosovo and Serbia to quickly resolve their dangerous and long standing disputes or risk renewing a violent conflict.
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