By Muhamet Brajshori
NATO began deploying more than 700 soldiers from the German-Austrian Operational Reserve Troops to Kosovo at the request of KFOR Commander Erhard Drews, ahead of the May 6th Serbian elections. The controversial elections are planned to be held in some areas in Kosovo, including the tense north inhabited by Serbs.
Pristina has vowed to stop the local elections from taking place — but it will allow Serbian parliament and presidential elections to be organised by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, because of the dual citizenship right.
The deployment started last week with the arrival of German and Austrian troops, and the rest were to arrive on Monday (April 30th).
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rassmusen said that the Alliance has stepped in to help EULEX.
“I’m very much concerned about the fact that EULEX is under-resourced, which in practical terms has strong implications for NATO because our KFOR operation will then be influenced,” Rasmussen told EU lawmakers.
He said that NATO took over some tasks which EULEX could not fulfill. “We have to take on tasks and responsibilities that were unforeseen, in particular in the northern part of Kosovo,” Rasmussen said.
Avni Kastrati, the mayor of the ethnic divided town of Mitrovica, told SETimes said that the deployment of troops will help the situation in the tense northern Kosovo.
“The increase of the troops, which will happen [with KFOR assistance], will have a further positive effect in improving the security climate in Mitrovica,” Kastrati said.
KFOR has taken all measures to prevent any escalation, says the mission’s German contingent Commander Bernd Holthusen.
“We need to consider the legitimate rights of the Serbs in the north, but at the same time we need to respect the law which bans the holding of local elections, due to the fact Kosovo is a sovereign country,” Holthusen told Koha Ditore newspaper.
Marieluise Beck, German MP from the Green Party and a member of the Committee for Foreign Relations, told SETimes that all sides must show restraint.
“Belgrade has already announced that no local elections will be held in northern Kosovo. If some people hold self-organised elections in northern Kosovo, they will have no relevance or legitimacy — neither for Belgrade nor for Pristina, nor for Brussels or Berlin,” Beck said.
She says that parallel structures in northern Kosovo are not to be tolerated. The area is an ideal environment for organised crime due to its instability, and is a security threat to Serbia, Kosovo and the region.
“Provocations from either side are not acceptable, even if the claim is legitimate for Pristina to enforce sovereignty in northern Kosovo. An escalation of the situation is very dangerous. Serbia cannot maintain its parallel structures in northern Kosovo if it wants to enter into negotiations with the EU,” Beck told SETimes.
Berat Bejtullahu, a researcher at the Centre for Conflict Research and Resolution in Pristina, told SETimes that the deployment of troops shows that is NATO preparing to deal with any situation.
“I do not expect inter-ethnic clashes, but we might have a similar situation to last year when the police will try to prevent local elections,” Bejtullahu said.
Blerim Krasniqi, EULEX spokesperson, told SETimes that following an explosion in the three towers area in northern Kosovo on April 8th, and in the run up to the Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections, the situation in multi-ethnic areas is tense.
“In light of this, EULEX has increased the number of quick response police units in the Mitrovica area. EULEX also increased the number of special police patrols in the Albanian areas in the Mitrovica region. Moreover, EULEX is closely monitoring, mentoring and advising the Kosovo police, who have increased multi-ethnic patrols in the mixed areas of the north,” Krasniqi said.
Serbian Interior Minster Ivica Dacic told B92 that intelligence data shows that authorities in Pristina are preparing to stage provocations related to May 6th elections.
“Election material could be confiscated, and people who are taking part in the election process could be arrested, which would endanger not only the elections but also the safety of [citizens],” he said.