Armed Persons ‘Worryingly Present’ in North Kosovo in July, EULEX Confirms

EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo says it was concerned by the presence of armed persons in the Serb-majority north in late July, at a time of high tension between Serbia and Kosovo.

The EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, has said armed persons were present in Serb-majority northern Kosovo in late July, when locals erected barricades to block two border crossing points, protesting the Kosovo government’s “reciprocity measures” against Serbia on the issue of car license plates and IDs.

“On 31 July, EULEX noted a significant, and worrying, armed presence at the barricades erected in northern Kosovo,” EULEX told BIRN.

It added that “in response, EULEX further increased its reconnaissance patrols in northern Kosovo and fortunately has not encountered a similar presence since then”.

The EULEX Formed Police Unit, the second security responder in Kosovo, consists of 105 police officers. “Our ‘Quick Reaction Force’ is on standby 24 hours a day in [the town of] Mitrovica and has very short response times,” EULEX told BIRN explaining they carry out daily patrols in northern Kosovo.

“If needed, the Mission can deploy an additional Reserve Formed Police Unit to further enhance its forces on the ground and operational capacity,” EULEX told BIRN.

In late July, local Serbs again erected barricades on roads leading to two border crossings with Serbia, at Jarinje and Bernjak. They were protesting a June decision by the Kosovo government that every person presenting themself at the state border using personal IDs issued by Serbian authorities would now be issued temporary declaration forms valid for 90 days that replace the Serbian-issued document.

The decision, which would start implementation on August 1, reciprocated Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosovo-issued IDs, introducing the same measure as Serbia implements towards Kosovo citizens.

However, due to international pressure and to avoid further escalation of the situation, Kosovo agreed to postpone implementation for one month. Four days before the start of implementation the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, announced that Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement not to issue temporary entry-exit documents.

Meanwhile, state symbols are covered by stickers at the Kosovo-Serbia borders.

Nevertheless, tensions in north Kosovo have not eased. The government had also decided  that after October 31, anyone living in Kosovo but driving KS number plates – introduced prior to independence in 2008, when Kosovo was still a ward of the United Nations – or those issued in Serbia with area denomination matching individual cities in Kosovo, will be considered “owners of unregistered cars.”

With less than a week left for citizens of Kosovo to legally register their vehicles with RKS – Republic of Kosovo – licence plates, only 15 have done so.

The issue has become heavily politicised and marred by intimidation, including at least three acts of arson against Serbs who made the switch against the instructions of local Serb politicians.

On Wednesday, another Kosovo police officer in the Serb-majority municipality of Leposavic had his car burned down, which would be the fourth case of arson.

Besim Hoti, deputy director of the Kosovo Police in North Mitrovica, told BIRN the investigation is ongoing and that the car had illegal license plates, issued by Serbia. The police have not confirmed whether the cases are connected.

BIRN reported that some local Kosovo Serbs have voiced concern that the re-registration process is confusing, too fast, and fails to recognise the difficulties it poses for some Serbs.

However, the Kosovo government determined not to extend the deadline despite international and local requests to do so.

PM Albin Kurti said on Tuesday that “we already have done a deadline postponement,” urging citizens to convert their license plates to RKS ones and adding, that “the vast majority of Serbs in Kosovo have converted their plates”.

The Interior Ministry told BIRN it does not know how many cars still have illegal plates. However, Milica Andric Rakic, program manager at the New Social Initiative in mainly Serb North Mitrovica, cited estimates of between 7,500 and 9,000.

26/10/2022 - 12:40

26 October 2022 - 12:40

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.