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Serbs barricade streets in Kosovo as the specter of ethnic feuds looms

origin 1Trucks used as barricades on the road near the village of Rudare, North Kosovo on Saturday, December 10, 2022. ©Bojan Slavkovic/Copyright 2022 AP. All rights reserved.

Hundreds of Kosovo Serbs erected barricades on a road in the country’s north on Saturday, blocking traffic at two major border crossings with Serbia, police said.

Trucks, ambulances and agricultural machinery have been used to block traffic amid rising tensions in recent days marked by explosions, shootings and an attack on a police patrol.

A Kosovar Albanian policeman was injured in this violent incident, which has led to increased police presence in Serb-majority areas.

Protesters from Kosovo’s Serb minority are outraged by the arrest of an ethnic Serb former policeman suspected of involvement in attacks on Kosovo police, according to local media.

Emergency sirens sounded in several Serb-majority towns in northern Kosovo on Saturday to kick off the organized movement, according to an AFP reporter.

Protesters told reporters they wanted to prevent the detained ex-policeman from being transferred to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said the arrested ex-policeman was one of two suspects arrested after attacks on police patrols over the past two days.

Hostilities peaked after Pristina called snap elections in four Serb-dominated municipalities in the north, set for December 18.

Northern Serbs reject Pristina’s authority and Kosovo’s independence from Belgrade. The main Serbian political parties have announced their intention to boycott the vote.

In November, there was a mass strike by ethnic Serb police – involving around 600 officers – amid an ongoing dispute over vehicle number plates.

Sparks fly as Kosovo Police increase presence in the Serb-majority north

Explosions and gunfire were heard on Thursday as election officials visited two municipalities in northern Kosovo to prepare for the polls, but no injuries were reported.

Shortly after the barricades were erected, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani announced that she had decided to postpone local elections to April 23.

The attack in which the policeman was injured on Thursday came after the deployment of Kosovar Albanian policemen in northern Kosovo.

According to the government, this deployment was decided after the collective resignations of Serbs working in public institutions, including the police.

Members of the Serbian security forces and officials had resigned in protest against the decision of the Kosovar authorities to replace the plates issued by Serbia with those issued by Pristina.

Serbian protesters had blocked traffic at the two main border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia in September, to express their anger at the license plates.

On Friday, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said the country’s leaders were close to sending security troops to Kosovo, arguing the lives of the Serb minority were threatened.

The return of Belgrade’s troops to the former Serbian province could dramatically increase tensions in the Balkans.

The Serbian minority in Kosovo has a total of about 120,000 members.

He refuses to be loyal to the Pristina authorities. With encouragement from Belgrade, he does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, proclaimed in 2008.