By Linda Karadaku, Muhamet Brajshori and Igor Jovanovic
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic said he is ready to meet with Serbian leaders in north Kosovo to discuss his nation’s response to a KFOR operation that left three people and two soldiers injured in northern Kosovo.
Nikolic, the new nationalist president and former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic, plans to begin meeting this week with party officials in preparation for forming a new government. He told Serbia broadcaster B92 that he also was planning to meet with Kosovo Serbs.
“The citizens should know what awaits them and what decision their state stands behind, and what has not been agreed and is a manipulation of their will and desire, a manipulation of the force Pristina is supposedly seeking to demonstrate now,” Nikolic said.
KFOR soldiers in armoured vehicles faced off with residents in the villages of Rudare and Dudin Krs outside the town of Zvecan on Friday (June 1st) to remove barricades that had been erected by Serbs last year.
Most of Kosovo is Albanian, but Serbs along the Serbia border have rejected Pristina and don’t recognise that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia four years ago.
Nikolic is more popular in with Kosovo Serbs than his predecessor, two-term President Boris Tadic, whom some accused of making too many concessions regarding Kosovo to win EU candidate status.
Some Kosovo Serbs expressed surprise and disappointment that Belgrade didn’t take forceful action during Friday’s standoff.
The chief of the Kosovska Mitrovica district, Radenko Nedeljkovic, said that Serbian authorities should have reacted “decisively and energetically.” The head of Zvecan municipality, Dragisa Milovic, said it was necessary for Kosovo Serbs to have talks with Nikolic soon.
Ivica Dacic, outgoing Serbian Interior minister said that the country “must firmly respond to attacks on Serbs in northern Kosovo.”
“We must respond reciprocally. Such are relations in the international community. And those talking about it should pay attention to what kind of reciprocity it is. If someone thinks that they can attack Serbs in northern Kosovo without punishment, than Serbia has no state policy,” he told reporters in Banja Luka.
Bujar Gashi, a fellow at the Centre for Conflict Resolution and Studies in Pristina, told SETimes that the clashes in northern Kosovo appeared timed to coincide with Nikolic’s installation as president.
“His party is one of the most influential ones in the north, and the clashes are aimed to bring the issue of northern Kosovo into the negotiation table about its special status or partitioning, showing that the Serbs resist any attempt to take control, and this challenges Pristina in implementing their plans for the north,” Gashi said.
KFOR denied on Friday that its mission was connected to the transition from Tadic to Nikolic.
“KFOR did this for practical reasons, to create freedom of movement for itself,” Kosovo Serbian MP Rada Trajkovic told SETimes, adding that “everyone, including the new government in Belgrade should be aware of the seriousness of the situation.” The government needs to build a strategy for “the survival of Serbs in Kosovo.”
Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, advocated continuing the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels as one of the ways for calming tensions in northern Kosovo.
“It is inadmissible for KFOR to shoot at the Serb people, but I have told the Serbs, particularly in the north, that they can’t defend Kosovo with weapons. The dialog is the only way, but the international missions have to provide firm guarantees to the Serbs in northern Kosovo that Pristina will not try to take over the north again, in a forceful and unilateral manner,” Bogdanovic told SETimes.