Kosovo minister sees Russian influence in growing Serbian tension | Conflict News

Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla accused Belgrade of supporting Serbian protesters as a means to destabilize Kosovo.

Interior Minister Kosova Xhelal Svecla accused Serbia, under Russian influence, of trying to destabilize his country by support the Serb minority in northern Kosovo who have blocked the way in the escalation of weeks of protests.

Serbs in the ethnically diverse city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, erected new barricades on Tuesday, hours after Serbia said it had put its troops on standby. fighting was highest after weeks of escalating tensions between Belgrade and Pristina over the protests.

New barriers, made of heavy trucks, were installed overnight in Mitrovica and represented for the first time since the recent crisis began that the Serbs had blocked the way in one of the main towns of Kosovo. So far, roadblocks have been set up on the roads leading to the Kosovo-Serbia border.

Trucks were parked across the road connecting the Serb-majority part of town with the Albanian-majority area.

“It is precisely Serbia, influenced by Russia, which has increased its military readiness and is ordering the erection of new barricades, to justify and protect terrorist criminal groups,” Svecla said. in a statement on Tuesday.

Serbia denies it is trying to destabilize neighboring Kosovo and says it only wants to protect the Serbian minority living in what is now Kosovan territory but not recognized by Belgrade.

Belgrade has put the army and police on highest alert, saying the order is necessary because it believes Kosovo is preparing to attack the Serbs and remove barricades by force.

Since December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo have erected numerous barricades in and around Mitrovica and sporadic gunfights with Kosovo police after the arrest of a former Serb policeman working in the Kosovar force.

Ethnic Serb protesters are demanding the release of the arrested policeman and other demands. Their protests followed previous unrest over the issue license plates. Kosovo has for many years wanted ethnic Serbs in the north convert their Serbian car license plates to those issued by Pristina as part of the government’s desire to assert power over its territory. The Serbs refused to do so.

About 50,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo and refuse to recognize the Pristina or Kosovo government as an independent state. They consider Belgrade their capital and want to keep Serbian license plates.

Kosovar officials have accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of using Serbian state media to stir up trouble and cause incidents that could serve as a pretext for an armed intervention in the former Serbian province. .

A scholar at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies, Skender Perteshi, accused Serbia and Russia of deliberately disrupting the region.

“The idea of ​​Serbia and Russia together trying to cause conflict and crisis wherever the West has a role and increase this kind of instability in the region to increase its influence,” he suggests. Russia and Serbia in the region”.

Former Kosovo Foreign Minister Meliza Hardinaj also tweeted on Wednesday that the barricades in the north of the country are not due to a “lack of rights” of the Serb community, but “direct orders” from Serbia and Russia. to incite conflict.

The government of Kosovo has said that its police force is capable of removing Serbian barricades, but it is waiting for NATO’s Kosovo peacekeeping force – KFOR – to respond to its request for the force to peacekeepers remove obstacles.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted European Union nations to devote more energy to improving relations with the six Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, albeit continuing to continued reluctance to expand the EU further.

The Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with Western backing following the 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect ethnic Albanian citizens.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations and five EU countries – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus – refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Russia, Serbia’s historic ally, is also preventing Kosovo from becoming a member of the United Nations.

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