By Igor Jovanovic and Linda Karadaku
Violent confrontations that injured dozens of police officers and citizens on the Serbian holiday of Vidovdan is another setback towards the goal of peaceful co-existence, analysts said.
Serbs and Kosovo Albanians don’t agree on who started the violence, which included gunshots, stones and Molotov cocktails during confrontations in Dobrosin, Merdare, Gracanica and Pristina on Thursday (June 28th).
Ivica Dacic, Serbia’s prime minister designate, called on the international missions in Kosovo to protect the Serbs and secure the boundary, because Serbia does not have its own security forces in Kosovo.
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga condemned what she called an attack against Kosovo police by football hooligans. ”The attempts of these groups of hooligans to enter the territory of the Republic of Kosovo violently will be stopped because these are serious violations of the rule of law and escalate the security situation in Kosovo,” she said in a statement.
The violence began about 4am when a group of 70-80 Serbs entered Kosovo to celebrate Vidovdan, the Serbian Orthodox holiday that marks the Battle of Kosovo that Serbia waged against the Ottoman Empire in 1389.
Kosovo police said the group — fans of Belgrade’s football club Partizan — were on their way to Pristina, but were “very aggressive and drunk.” Police sent them back to Serbia through Merdare, where they allegedly confronted Kosovo police and began throwing stones.
Kosovo claims that 35 police officers were injured; Serbia says that 20 Serbs were injured, including three who were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.
Serbia is also investigating a report of unidentified assailants firing shots at a Serbian police checkpoint in the country’s south, wounding one officer. The incident occurred near the village of Dobrosin, which in 2000 and 2001 was the foothold of the Albanian Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, which fought the Serbian security forces.
Mirjana Ristic of the Higher Court in Vranje, which investigated the scene, told the Belgrade media that the attackers had opened fire at the police from the direction of the Kosovo village of Stublina. He said that the shots had been fired at a range of about 150m and that several weapons had been used, meaning there had been several attackers. A policeman sustained light injuries.
Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, told SETimes that the Kosovo police must swiftly investigate the incident at Merdare due to the grave consequences of the clash.
“Sending people back from the Merdare crossing and the assault on Serbs did not send a positive message either to the Serb people in Kosovo and Metohija or to all who had come to Kosovo from various parts,” the minister said.
Incidents continued during the Serbs’ return. In Pristina, four Molotov cocktails and a barrage of stones were hurled at two buses transporting Serbs.
Kosovo MP Rada Trajkovic, director of the Gracanica Health Centre, said there had been children on the buses and that 16 of them had been injured, two seriously.
KFOR condemned the attack on the buses, and said it “welcomes the determination of responsible institutions to carry out a thorough investigation into this reprehensible attack.”
“This shameful action is contrary to the integrity of the maintenance of a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo,” KFOR said in a statement.
Ian Bancroft, founder of TransConflict, an organisation that deals with resolving conflicts in the Balkans, said the incidents demonstrate the extent of underlying tensions that persist between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo — tensions that provide a disconcerting backdrop for future negotiations.
“Despite proclaiming multiculturalism, it seems that any assertions of Serbian identity, particularly on a day such as Vidovdan, bode ill for compromises over, for instance, the Orthodox monasteries,” he said.
Kosovo analyst Ramadan Ilazi, a co-founder of Fol (Speak up) Movement, put the blame on Serbia.
“These political developments in Serbia put in serious danger the process of normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Dacic will create new security dilemmas in the Balkans that will have a direct impact on the stability of the region,” Ilazi told SETimes.