By Fatmir Aliu
A top Serbian minister’s threat of war if Serbs are attacked in Kosovo is unacceptable even if it was designed purely for internal consumption, Kosovo Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said.
The era of ethnically motivated armed conflicts in the Balkans is over, and all calls for a repeat of those times should be rejected, Rexhepi added.
His comments follow the Serbian Interior Minister’s recent assertion that war in Kosovo remains an option, and that by rejecting it, Belgrade sends the wrong message to Pristina.
“I think the time of wars and armed conflicts in this region has ended. New calls for war are unacceptable. Dacic is making such statements for his electorate,” Rexhepi told Balkan Insight.
“He should know that these kinds of messages are bad ones. Even if Dacic’s comments are political gaffes, they are unacceptable.”
In an interview published on Thursday, Dacic said that Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci needed to know that an attack on Kosovo Serbs would be seen as an attack on Belgrade, and “Serbia could not and would not watch that peacefully”.
Northern Kosovo, which borders Serbia, has long been prone to violence. Its majority Serb population does not recognise Kosovo’s independence or the government in Pristina, and it considers NATO peacekeepers in KFOR and the EU law mission, EULEX, as biased.
Kosovo’s Albanian-led government has not controlled the northern Serb-run part of territory since NATO forced Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo in 1999.
Rexhepi advised his Serb counterpart to focus on Serbia’s problems and not Kosovo’s, since, he said, “the north is Kosovo’s north.
“We do have our own forces, and KFOR and EULEX are there to take care of security. We don’t need any other police forces,” he added.
Since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, EULEX has controlled its two northern border crossings with Serbia.
But on July 25 Kosovo’s government deployed special police to the northern crossings to enforce a recent trade ban on goods entering from Serbia.
Since then, Kosovo Serbs have erected 18 barricades on the roads, preventing access to the Jarinje and Brnjak border gates. KFOR has requested the removal of the barricades.
On Thursday, 21 peacekeepers were injured after coming under attack in an operation meant to dismantle the barricade in Rudare. To prevent further escalation of the dispute, KFOR halted the military operation and abandoned the barricade to the protesters.
Rexhepi said that in such cases, the response of the law enforcement agencies should always be proportionate to the situation.
“If people are violent, and put lives at risk, either those of the soldiers or the police, the response should be of the same proportion – proportional force should be used,” the Interior Minister added.