Alarm bells ring in Kosovo
Serb barricades greet ethnic Albanian special forces as Belgrade warns breakaway province against a crackdown
Church bells and air raid sirens went off in parts of Kosovo inhabited by ethnic Serbs on Sunday, as heavily armed special police answering to the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina showed up at the administrative crossings with Serbia. In Belgrade, President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia wants peace, but will not allow persecution of its citizens.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti cited a 2011 agreement with Belgrade to declare all Serbian documents and license plates invalid as of August 1, and announced an operation to apply “law and justice” to all territories claimed by his government. The province of Serbia, occupied by NATO in 1999, declared independence in 2008 with US support – but was not recognized by Belgrade.
Special police have blocked the main administrative crossing at Jarinje. Local Serb residents responded by erecting their own barricades, just as they had in 2011. There were reports, unconfirmed so far, that at least one Serb had suffered a gunshot wound.
The Serbian army has been put on alert, but the Defense Ministry in Belgrade issued a statement on Sunday that no troops had crossed the administrative line, saying that rumors of their having clashed with ethnic Albanian police were “misinformation” spread on behalf of Pristina.
Addressing the nation on Sunday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Kosovo authorities were selectively applying provisions of old agreements, which they themselves never abided by. He also compared the planned crackdown on documents and license plates to Croatia’s military operation in 1995 that resulted in the mass exodus of Serbs.
“The Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities,” Vucic said. He asked the local Serbs “not to fall for provocations” and the Albanians to “come to their senses,” while also pleading to Pristina’s Western backers “to pay a little attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict.”
“We do not want conflicts and we do not want war. We will pray for peace and seek peace, but let me tell you right away: There will be no surrender, and Serbia will win. If they dare to start persecuting, harassing and killing Serbs, Serbia will win,” Vucic said.
Another barricade was erected in Kosovska Mitrovica, on the bridge between the Albanian-dominated south side of the city and the Serb-inhabited north. Local media report that several hundred ethnic Albanians had gathered on the south side, some of them armed. The sighting raised the specter of the March 2004 pogrom, when some 50,000 Albanians torched dozens of Serb villages, churches and monasteries across the province. The rampage lasted for several days before the NATO peacekeepers responded to stop it.