By Bojana Barlovac
All major roads in northern Kosovo remain blocked but the situation remains calm following the deployment of EU police and Kosovo customs officials to border crossings with Serbia last Friday.
Serbs in northern Kosovo have strengthened barricades on major roads and are reportedly refusing to remove them until Kosovo police and customs officers withdraw from two checkpoints.
A number of Kosovo’s customs officers, along with EULEX, arrived at the two checkpoints in Jarinje and Brnjak on Friday by helicopter as part of a scheduled and publicised agreement with the EU rule-of-law mission and NATO peacekeeping troops.
While there have been minimal reports of unrest, the locally erected barricades are causing problems for the Serb-dominanted population in the area. Villages and towns in northern Kosovo are reportedly running out of food and shortages of fuel have reduced the flow of traffic and driven up the price of taxis.
In spite of the barricades, civil unrest has been minimal. The sound of shots being fired in the village of Zupce was reported on Sunday and some local Serbs reportedly accused Albanians from surrounding villages of firing at them. Kosovo police Spokesman Besim Hoti could only confirm that shots had been fired.
After the shooting, Kosovo police introduced around-the-clock patrols in multiethnic communities in northern Kosovo. The only other reports of disruption were of local Serbs’ efforts to strengthen roadblocks leading to towns inhabited by Albanians.
Elsewhere, locals were preoccupied with popular sporting events. On Sunday night in the Serb-populated northern part of the divided town of Mitrocovica, inhabitants celebrated Serbia’s gold medal in the European Volleyball Championship. Serbian flags were seen and chants of “Serbia, Serbia” were reportedly heard.
Meanwhile, Serbia’s negotiatior in Kosovo talks, Borislav Stefanovic, has said that Belgrade authorities have a clear perception and plan on how to overcome the tense situation and that the proposal has been submitted to the international community.
Mitrovica”Apparently, we have full commitment of citizens not to give up their demands, and Pristina’s commitment not to give up of total sovereignty. Given that the two stances completely contradict, the only way out lies in an agreement, and we are ready to deal at any time and anywhere,” Stefanovic told local media on Sunday.
Belgrade has undertaken a series of diplomatic moves and has submitted the proposal to Brussels on how the situation at the two border crossings might be solved.
The proposal is expected to be discussed this week.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia came to a head in late July when Kosovo police tried to seize control of the two border crossings at Jarinje and Brnjak, which NATO’s peacekeeping troops had hitherto controlled since Kosovo declared independence in 2008. This sparked short-term unrest resulting in the death of one policeofficer and several injuries, one border crossing being torched and a significant diplomatic effort to defuse the situation. It resulted in a temporary agreement whereby only peacekeeping troops would man the two border points until an unspecified date in September.
On September 2, Belgrade and Pristina, reached a landmark agreement on customs ,allowing for the restoration of free movement of goods between Kosovo and Serbia – a situation not seen since Kosovo declared indepenence in 2008.
Following the agreement, the Kosovo government announced a plan, implemented on Friday, that positioned some Kosovo customs officials and EU border police on the Kosovo-Serbia border.
According to the plan, Kosovo’s authorities will have overall authority at the crossings but will be supervised by the EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX.