Mitrovica, Kosovo (Reuters) – Kosovo’s Interior Minister Djelal Svekla said on Tuesday that Serbia, under the influence of Russia, aims to destabilize Kosovo by supporting the Serb minority in the north that has been blocking roads and protesting for nearly three weeks. .
Serbs in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo erected new barricades on Tuesday, hours after Serbia said it had put its army on high alert after weeks of escalating tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
“It is precisely Serbia, which has been influenced by Russia, that has raised the state of military readiness and ordered the erection of new barriers, in order to justify and protect criminal groups that terrorize… Serb citizens living in Kosovo,” Svekla said in a statement.
Serbia denies it is trying to destabilize its neighbor and says it only wants to protect its minority population. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday that Serbia “will continue to fight for peace and seek compromises.”
Belgrade had said late on Monday that in light of recent events in the region and its belief that Kosovo was preparing to attack Serbs and remove barriers by force, it had ordered its army and police to be put on high alert.
Since 10 December, Serbs in northern Kosovo have erected several roadblocks in and around Mitrovica and exchanged fire with police after a Serb ex-policeman was arrested for allegedly assaulting serving police officers.
Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with Western support, following the 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian citizens.
Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations and five EU countries – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus – refuse to recognize Kosovo.
Russia, a historic ally of Serbia, bans Kosovo from membership in the United Nations.
About 50,000 Serbs live in the northern part of Kosovo and refuse to recognize Pristina’s government or state. They see Belgrade as their capital.
The Kosovo government said the police had the capacity and willingness to act but was waiting for the NATO peacekeeping force of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) to respond to its request to remove the roadblocks.
Vucic said talks with foreign diplomats are ongoing on how to resolve the situation.
And in Mitrovica, trucks were stopped on Tuesday morning to block the road connecting the Serb-majority part of the town with the Albanian-majority part.
The Serbs are calling for the release of the arrested officer and they have other demands before they remove the barriers.
The ethnic Serb mayors of northern Kosovo municipalities, along with local judges and about 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest of the Kosovo government’s decision to replace vehicle license plates issued by Serbia with ones issued by Pristina.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the EU countries to devote more energy to improving relations with the six Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, although they remain reluctant to expand the EU further.
(Covering) By Fatos Paetsi and Ivana Sekularac, Editing by Alexandra Hudson
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