Pristina’s desire to force the Serb population of Kosovo to replace their vehicles’ Serbian license plates with those issued by Kosovo authorities has been a recurring source of tension for months, to the point that NATO has scheduled time to force the Kosovo government to reinforce. KFOR, the force it has maintained since 1999 in this area formerly part of Serbia, whose independence is not unanimously recognized, including between the member states of the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union [UE].
Finally, and although the worst was to be feared, a compromise was finally found in November, under the auspices of the EU. For example, Belgrade has pledged not to issue license plates to Serbs in the former province, while Pristina will not replace existing license plates. However, this clearly has not put an end to the tensions, as evidenced by the incidents of the past few hours.
In northern Kosovo, where the majority of the Serbian minority lives, hundreds of people have protested against the arrest of a former Serbian police officer suspected of involvement in the protest against the replacement of license plates issued by Belgrade.
In addition, the approaching local elections – which the main Serbian political parties have said they want to boycott – has heated up. On December 8, shootings and explosions were heard as officials responsible for organizing the elections visited two municipalities in northern Kosovo. Barricades were then erected on a road leading to two border crossings on the border with Serbia.
Although the election date was eventually postponed to April 23, tensions persisted. On the night of December 10 to 11, unidentified persons exchanged fire with police officers. “Police units, in a situation of self-defense, were forced to respond with their weapons to the people and criminal groups, who were repelled and left in an unknown direction,” the Kosovo police said.
In addition, a stun grenade was thrown at a patrol of EULEX, the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo. “This attack, like the one against members of the Kosovo police, is unacceptable,” the latter said in a statement. “We call on all parties to avoid provocations and to contribute to peace and stability,” said NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.
It is in this context that Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić, asked KFOR for permission to deploy 1,000 soldiers in North Kosovo, in accordance with the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Never before had such a request been made by Belgrade.
However, Resolution 1244 stipulates that “an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel shall be allowed to return to perform the following duties: liaising with the international civilian and international security presence, marking the minefields and demining and maintaining a presence in Serbian heritage sites” as well as “key border crossings”.
Naturally, the Serbian request remained a dead letter [d’ailleurs, M. Vučić ne se faisait aucune illusion à son sujet, a-t-il dit]. “Kosovo eased tensions by postponing local elections. Recent rhetoric from Serbia has done the opposite. It is completely unacceptable to suggest sending Serbian troops to Kosovo. The same goes for the latest attacks on EULEX. All my support goes to the EU-led dialogue,” summarizes Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister.
A much sharper position than that of Paris. “France is deeply concerned about the situation in northern Kosovo and strongly condemns the unacceptable attack on the EULEX Kosovo mission and all acts of violence on the ground. It urges the parties to show the utmost restraint and responsibility to defuse tensions,” said the Quai d’Orsay.
Kosovo eased tensions by postponing local elections. Recent rhetoric from Serbia has done the opposite. Proposing to send Serb troops to Kosovo is completely unacceptable. So are the latest attacks @EULEXKosovo. All my support goes to the EU-led dialogue @MiroslavLajcak.
— Secretary of State Annalena Baerbock (@ABaerbock) December 11, 2022
“I call on the Serbs in the north to be calm and peaceful, not to fall into provocations and to respect EULEX and KFOR” and “before they receive orders, and with the exception of alertness and preparation for battle, our soldiers will million times to keep the peace,” the Serbian president confirmed at the end of a December 11 defense council meeting.
In addition, Russia, a close ally of Serbia, has called for “resolving tensions” between Belgrade and Pristina through dialogue.
“We are in favor of the parties making efforts of a peaceful nature so that this situation can be resolved through diplomatic means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskvo indeed stated on December 12. “We are in favor of ensuring that all rights of the Serbs are guaranteed,” he added.
However, the day before, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova had delivered another speech, accusing the EU of “shaping” the situation in Kosovo in order to “provoke” tensions “to the brink of war” could lead”.
Be that as it may, it would be tempting to link these recurring tensions to Pristina’s desire to join NATO. Will recently expressed by Vjosa Osmani Sadriu, the Kosovo president. “We are exposed to continued Russian attempts to undermine Kosovo and destabilize the entire Western Balkans,” she said last March. And to estimate that accordingly, “Kosovo’s membership in NATO [était] become a necessity.
Photo: Serbian army