Kosovo has demanded that barriers erected by Serb protesters be removed, while Serbia has placed its army on high alert.
Local Serbs erected more barricades in northern Kosovo and defied demands to remove barriers set up earlier, a day after Serbia put its troops near the border at a high level of combat readiness.
The new barriers, formed with loaded trucks, were installed at dawn on Tuesday in the town of Mitrovica. The city is divided between ethnic Kosovo Serbs and Albanians, who make up the majority in Kosovo as a whole.
It is the first time since a crisis broke out in the region in early December that Serbs have blocked streets in a major city. Until now, roadblocks have been placed on the roads leading to the Kosovo-Serbia border.
The events came after President Aleksandar Vucic on Monday ordered Serbia’s army and police to go on high alert in response to the latest developments in the region.
Vucic claimed that Pristina was preparing to “attack” ethnic Serb areas in northern Kosovo and forcibly remove several of the roadblocks that the Serbs began putting up 18 days ago to protest the arrest of a former Kosovar Serb policeman. .
The Kosovo government has yet to respond to Vucic’s accusations, but previously accused the Serb leader of trying to stir up trouble and trigger incidents that could act as a pretext for armed intervention in the former Serb province.
Meanwhile, Pristina has called on the NATO-led peacekeeping forces (the Kosovo Force, or KFOR) stationed in the country to remove the barricades erected by ethnic Serbs, hinting that its own forces will do so if the KFOR takes no action.
About 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo since the 1999 war that ended in Belgrade’s loss of control of the territory.
Simmering tensions in the Balkans
The most recent outrage first erupted on December 10, when Serbs erected multiple barricades and exchanged fire with police after the arrest of a former Serb policeman for allegedly assaulting on-duty police officers during an earlier protest.
The Serbs demand the release of the arrested officer and have other demands before they remove the barricades.
It comes after previous problems on the subject of car license plates. Kosovo has for years wanted ethnic Serbs in the north to swap their Serb license plates for ones issued by Pristina, as part of the government’s desire to assert its authority over its territory.
Ethnic Serb mayors in northern municipalities, along with local judges and some 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest after the Kosovo government finally ruled that Serb-issued license plates must be replaced with Serb-issued ones. pristine.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but remains home to a Belgrade-backed Serb minority in the north.
The declaration of independence came 10 years after a war between ethnic Albanian fighters and Serb forces that killed 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians.
The war ended with a NATO intervention that drove Serb troops out of present-day Kosovo.
Serbia, backed by allies Russia and China, does not recognize statehood for its former province, but most Western countries do, including the United States.
Around 50,000 ethnic Serbs living there refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia.
Belgrade accuses Pristina of trampling on the rights of the Serb minority.