MITROVICA, KOSOVO, DEC. 27 (Reuters) – Serbia, under the influence of Russia, aims to destabilize Kosovo by blocking roads in the north and supporting the Serb minority, which has been fighting for nearly three weeks, Kosovo Interior Minister Shelal Svekla said on Tuesday. .
Serbs erected new barricades in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo on Tuesday, hours after Serbia said it had put its army on the highest war alert following weeks of escalating tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
“Serbia, under pressure from Russia, has ordered new barricades and increased military readiness to justify and protect criminal groups terrorizing Serbian citizens living in Kosovo,” Svekla said in a statement.
Serbia denies trying to destabilize its neighbor and says it wants to protect its minority there. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday that Serbia would “continue to fight for peace and seek compromise solutions”.
Belgrade said late Monday that it had put its army and police on the highest alert, based on recent events in the region and its belief that Kosovo Serbs were preparing to attack and forcibly remove the blockade.
Since December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo have set up several roadblocks in and around Mitrovica and exchanged gunfire with police after a former Serb policeman was arrested for assaulting on-duty police officers.
Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, backed by the West, following a 1998-1999 war and NATO intervention to protect ethnic 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’s statehood.
Russia, Serbia’s historic ally, blocks Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations.
About 50,000 Serbs live in the northern part of Kosovo and refuse to recognize the Pristina government or the government. They see Belgrade as their capital.
Kosovo’s government said police were capable and ready to act, but NATO’s KFOR Kosovo peacekeeping force said it was waiting to respond to a request to remove the blockade.
Vucic said talks are underway with foreign diplomats on how to resolve the situation.
In Mitrovica on Tuesday morning, trucks were stopped to block the road connecting the Serb-majority town with the Albanian-majority area.
The Serbs are demanding the release of the arrested officer and other demands before the sanctions are lifted.
Serb mayors in northern Kosovan municipalities, along with local judges and 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest at the Kosovo government’s decision to issue Serbian-issued car license plates in Pristina.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led 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, despite continued reluctance to further expand the EU.
(Reporting by Fatos Baitsi and Ivana Secularak, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
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