Efforts to defuse Kosovo crisis intensify amid more protests

International efforts to defuse the crisis in Kosovo look set to intensify on Thursday with the leaders of France and Germany due to meet senior top officials from Serbia and Kosovo at a summit in Moldova.

A German government spokesperson said Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron plan to meet with the leaders of both countries.

Spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin that the meeting will take place on the sidelines of the European Political Community meeting in Chisinau.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Serbs held more protests in the northern town of Zvecan, scene of recent clashes with police and soldiers from NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission.

They demanded the withdrawal from northern Kosovo of special police and ethnic Albanian officials who were elected to mayoral posts in recent elections largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs.

The crowd then spread a huge Serbian flag outside Zvecan town hall. The protest on Wednesday ended peacefully.

Rising tensions

The rising tensions have fuelled concern about another war like the 1998-99 fighting in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives, left more than 1 million people homeless and resulted in a NATO peacekeeping mission that has lasted nearly a quarter of a century. NATO is sending an additional 700 troops to Kosovo to bolster the KFOR presence, which currently numbers around 3,800 troops.

Working to avert any escalation, European Union officials met with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on the sidelines of a conference in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“The current situation is dangerous and unsustainable.”

Josep Borrell
EU Foreign policy chief

“The current situation is dangerous and unsustainable,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. “We need urgent de-escalation.”

Speaking in Slovakia, Kurti flatly rejected Serb demands but left the door open for fresh local elections.

“As long as there is a violent mob outside the municipal buildings, we must have our special units,” he said. “If there would have been peaceful protests asking for early elections, that would attract my attention, and perhaps I would consider that request.”

Kurti also suggested that Russia may have a hand in the latest flare-up, pointing to protesters who “do graffiti with letter Z” and show admiration for “despotic” Russian President Vladimir Putin and for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian influence”

Russia is a close Serbian ally, although Belgrade populist leaders claim to be seeking European Union membership.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Moscow is monitoring the situation and supporting “all legitimate rights and interests of Kosovo Serbs.”

On Monday, ethnic Serbs tried to storm municipal offices and fought with both Kosovo police and the peacekeepers, leaving 30 NATO soldiers and 50 rioters injured.

A former province of Serbia, Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is recognized by Washington and most EU nations but not by Belgrade, Russia or China.

Serbs are a minority in Kosovo, but they constitute a majority in parts of the country’s north bordering Serbia. Many reject the Albanian-majority territory’s claim of independence.

The confrontation first unfolded last week after ethnic Albanian officials entered municipal buildings to take office with an escort of Kosovo police.

When Serbs tried to block the officials, Kosovo police fired tear gas to disperse them. In Zvecan on Monday, angry Serbs again clashed first with the police and later with NATO-led troops who tried to secure the area.

Serbia put the country’s military on its highest state of alert and sent more troops to the border with Kosovo.

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