Kosovo-Serbia tensions rise amid arrests
Kosovo police arrested three ethnic Serbs, including two police officers, this morning (Friday), on suspicion of involvement in the killing earlier this year of a Serb politician.
The three men were arrested in the largely ethnic-Serb town of Mitrovica (pictured) as suspects in the January assassination of Oliver Ivanovic, police said. A fourth ethnic Serb was arrested for resisting police, adding that illegal weapons had been seized.
The arrests triggered protests by ethnic Serbs in Mitrovica.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the operation was not linked to any political development.
“I assure all citizens of the Kosovo state and the public order institutions that [the police] will be never be oriented against any ethnic or political grouping,” Haradinaj posted on Facebook.
Tensions are rising with Serbia after Kosovo was blocked from joining Interpol, following intense lobbying by Belgrade. Kosovo retaliated by imposing a 100-per-cent tax on Serb goods.
EU foreign policy commissioner Federica Mogherini called for calm and asked Kosovo to “immediately revoke” the tariffs, saying they represented a “clear violation” of the Central European Free Trade Agreement.
“We call on the two leaderships to bring to an immediate end these provocations and focus on completing normalisation of relations without further preconditions,” said Maja Kocijancic, Mogherini’s spokeswoman.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Kosovo could be deploying troops in northern Kosovo, which Prestina denies.
The Serbian authorities would not respond with counter-measures to what they see as a declaration of a trade war, he said, but would instead try to help foreign firms operating in Serbia that also export to Kosovo. Vucic said no new talks would take place until the tariffs were lifted.
“They want to exert pressure on Serbia to win our unconditional capitulation and recognition of their independence. That will not happen,” Vucic announced on television this week. “We understand that you consider Kosovo independent, but we do not.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 which Belgrade still refuses to recognise.
Haradinaj has refused to withdraw the tariffs unless Serbia recognises Kosovo’s independence.
“I believe that [tariffs] on products coming from Serbia should be permanent until the recognition,” Haradinaj told MPs.
Despite tensions, bilateral trade has grown over the past decade with Serb imports amounting to around €400 million, although Kosovo’s exports to Serbia are far more limited.
A peacekeeping force has remained in Kosovo since the 1999 war of independence.
Mitrovica. Picture credit: Wikimedia