Kosovo Police patrol near Dren village in Leposavic March 9, 2023. Photo: BIRN/Adelina Ahmeti

Kosovo Serb Villagers Stage Camp Protest to Stop Land Expropriation

Locals in a Serb-majority northern Kosovo municipality claim their rights are being violated by government decisions to expropriate land for a police station, questioning the public interest.

Residents of the Serb-majority northern Kosovo municipality of Leposavic have been taking shifts since February, camping in a tent on a road that leads to the village of Dren, trying to stop heavy machinery from restarting construction of a police station on expropriated land in the village.

Three Kosovo police vehicles are placed near the citizens’ tent to supervise and maintain security.

The protest action comes after the Kosovo government in January and February decided to expropriate land in Leposavic despite citizens deeming the decisions illegal.

At a meeting with the Kosovo Ombudsperson, Naim Qelaj, on Thursday, a lawyer for some of the residents, Nebojsa Vlajic, claimed the expropriation law had been violated.

“All the decisions are mysterious despite being published on the official website [of the government] because they do not specify what will be constructed,” Vlajic said, claiming that it cannot be determined whether a public interest exists if what will be constructed is not specified.

Human rights being violated, citizens claim

Kosovo Ombudsperson Qelaj met the residents of Leposavic to see the situation first hand before he reviews three complaints he received on the land expropriation.

“Transparency is the first thing you declare that is missing” from the government’s decision, Qelaj told the citizens in Leposavic, listing additional concerns such as “lawfulness and implementation of legal procedures, public discussion as a form of transparency and general interest as one of the principles that that guides every action of public authorities”.

On January 16, the government declared several real estate properties “of special public interest, which are necessary for the realization of ‘Infrastructural Projects for Public Interest’”, in Dren and Lesak/Leshak villages.

Locals managed to halt work on a road in Dren in early February, but only temporarily. They also managed to halt construction of a police station on their expropriated land after protesting for several days in a row.

Despite these protests, the government has taken two more decisions on expropriation of property for infrastructure projects “of public interest” in Leposavic.

Former Leposavic mayor Zoran Todic said that “no one wanted to hear residents’ complaints here, neither internationals nor the government”, adding that the government is violating Kosovo’s laws.

“Some objects have been built for the needs of Special Police units, and expropriation procedures have started after their erection,” he said.

Todic was voted in as mayor in the 2021 local elections, from the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista party. But he has not held office since November last year when the mayors from all four northern Serb-majority municipalities – Mitrovica North, Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok – joined the mass resignation of Kosovo Serbs in protest against government plans to outlaw Serbia-issed licence plates, which Serbia has issued since the Kosovo war ended in 1999, using acronyms of Kosovo cities.

Kosovo Serb municipal councilors, police and customs officers as well as other civil servants also resigned, leaving these municipalities without proper representation.

Months after their resignation, the government initiated the plans to expropriate the land.

“The government proposes laws, then violates them. We learned from the media about the issue of expropriations. The government has decided to expropriate parcels in a municipality which is not fully functional,” Todic explained.

Another Leposavic resident at the meeting expressed concern that the decisions were not “sent to any interested person … nobody knows the public interest”.

He said that police bases have already been built on land expropriated from last year. “They tried to do the same on the lands included in this year’s decision but with our pressure, for the moment, no construction is being done,” he said.

Another concern, according to Todic, is the presence of heavy machinery, even after the construction stopped, and the big presence of Special Police units, fuelling citizens’ mistrust in the central Kosovo authorities, and seen as the opposite of “extending the hand of reconciliation”.

“We consider this as added tension,” Todic said.

10/03/2023 - 16:42

10 March 2023 - 16:42

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