North Kosovo crisis

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North Kosovo crisis
Serbian block roads.jpg
Serbian blockade of a road in North Kosovo
Date 25 July 2011 – 19 April 2013
Location North Kosovo
Status Goals:
  • Kosovo Imposition of sovereignty on the whole territory of Kosovo according to Constitution of Kosovo; acquiring border posts located in North Kosovo.
  • Prevention of the imposition of Republic of Kosovo-enacted decrees within North Kosovo.
  • Maintenance of "law and order.[2]
Belligerents
Kosovo Republic of Kosovo
KFOR
North Kosovo municipalities' governments
Serb civilians in northern Kosovo[1]
Commanders and leaders
Kosovo Hashim Thaçi
Kosovo Bajram Rexhepi
Erhard Bühler (until 29 Sep)
Erhard Drews (since 29 Sep)
Units involved
Kosovo Kosovo Special Police[3] KFOR
Strength
Kosovo 100+
700+
Hundreds of protesters
Casualties and losses
First phase
Kosovo 1 killed,[3]
6 wounded[4]
Second phase
65 wounded[5]
Kosovo 1 wounded [6]
First phase
Unknown
Second phase
Civil Flag of Serbia.svg 3 killed
162 wounded[7]

Clashes between ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo and the partially recognised Republic of Kosovo[a] began on 25 July 2011 when the Kosovo Police crossed into the Serb-controlled municipalities of North Kosovo, in an attempt to control several border crossings without the consultation of either Serbia or KFOR/EULEX.[3][8] Though tensions between the two sides eased somewhat after the intervention of NATO's KFOR forces, they continued to remain high amid concern from the EU, who also blamed Kosovo for the unilateral provocation.[9] On 19 April 2013, an agreement was signed in Brussels between representatives of Kosovo and Serbia. The 15-point document gave devolved powers to North Kosovo regarding economic development, education, healthcare and urban planning, and a number of mechanisms that allowed a certain degree of autonomy in justice, policing and electoral matters.[10]

Background[edit]

The clashes occurred a long stand-off over cross-border trade. Since the declaration of independence, Kosovo has been unable to export anything to or via territories directly controlled by Serbia's government.[3] There was disruption to cross-border trade[8] following Serbia's ban on Kosovar imports,[11] although many jobs on both sides of the border depend on international trade.[12] Serbia has also stationed troops in the northern region to enforce a boycott of goods from Kosovo proper.[13]

There have been several skirmishes reported around the region with the Kosovo Police clashing with Serbs.[citation needed]

Though KFOR had made implementation of the "vague ultimatums" to remove the barricades, Kosovar Serbs had in the past used mountainous tracts to cross between northern Kosovo and Serbia proper. At the same as the bridge dividing Mitrovica was closed from transport to the south, the daily train to southern Serbia was packed. The EU also demanded that Serbia dismantle "the parallel structures" of government in Northern Kosovo. Serbia's Secretary of State for Kosovo, Oliver Ivanović said: "We don't see these as 'parallel structures', we see these as the only structures, because we do not recognise the independence of Kosovo." He also said that a partition of Kosovo is out of the question, even though Serbian President Boris Tadić said he was open to the possibility. The Serbs of North Kosovo do not acknowledge or cooperate with the government of Kosovo.[12]

Prior to the Kosovo Police's attempt to take over the border crossings on 26 July, they were controlled by EULEX and Serbian members of the Kosovo Police.[9]

Goals[edit]

North Kosovo location (Orange)

North Kosovo, as part of the Assembly of the Community of Municipalities of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, respects United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and defies the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence (the Kosovo Serb enclaves are under the control of the institutions of the Republic of Serbia, disputed by the Kosovar [Albanian]` Assembly). The unilaterally proclaimed Republic of Kosovo seeks to impose its customs officials at the border crossings with Serbia.[14] Kosovar Serbs are seeking the removal of Kosovar Albanians customs officials from crossings with Serbia. In doing so they sough to erect road blocks that would make travel difficult for KFOR troops in the area seeking to maintain "law and order."[15]

Timeline[edit]

July–August 2011[edit]

On 26 July 2011, during the operation to take control of the border posts, Enver Zymberi, a member of the Kosovo Police's Special Intervention Unit, was killed during a grenade blast near the border. Five more policemen were wounded, with at least one being treated in hospital for severe wounds.[3] The KFOR Mi-17 helicopter that had moved the 16 Kosovo special police personnel belonged to the Croatian Army.[16] Later that day the same helicopter had been fired at.[16] An hour later 14 new Kosovo police officers and three customs officers were located in Brnjak.[17] Though the Kosovo police later withdrew and there was a lull in tensions, some Serbian protesters returned in the evening and attacked the post.[18]

Jarinje border crossing, burnt down on 27 July 2011

Clashes continued on 27 July after armed Kosovar police took over two border posts to enforce the writ of the central government in Pristina; ethnic Serbs burned down the border post at Jarinje. The mob, which reportedly included "dozens of masked men, armed with crowbars, clubs, axes, Molotov cocktails and handheld flares,"[1] as well as rocks and other debris,[19] were said to have attacked the NATO troops who were a part of KFOR operations. Reports also suggested the troops may have been fired upon.[1] This was the same border post that had been burned down in 2008 after Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.[13] Following the intervention of KFOR's NATO troops, a NATO operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralf Adametz, said that "the situation is now under control, but tense."[19]

There was a thaw in tensions on 28 July, after all Kosovar units withdrew from North Kosovo, leaving KFOR's NATO troops in charge of maintaining peace in the region. In return, the Serbs removed most of the roadblocks they had created.[20] KFOR took full control of the two crossings and General Erhard Bühler declared the area around the two crossings to be military areas, therefore giving shoot-at-sight orders to his soldiers for anyone crossing the area.[21]

A Serbian man was later beaten up in Štrpce (an ethnically mixed area), allegedly due to being Serb; however this has not been confirmed.[22]

As of 29 July, NATO units remained in control of the two border posts. However, they were prevented from returning to their bases by some of the roadblocks set up by hundreds of Serb protesters. The column of American and Slovenian[23] 30 armoured vehicles then withdrew from the barricade, even though they were given permission to move against the protesters using force, if necessary. The decision was made to avoid further bloodshed.[24]

Kosovo police and Italian Carabinieri near the Ibar River Bridge on the Kosovar side.

On 31 July, the Serbs continued to man their roadblocks and KFOR soldiers remained isolated at the border crossings they were manning. The Kosovars then organised burnings of Serbian products and General Buhler sent an ultimatum to the Serbs blocking the road.[clarification needed]

On 1 August, NATO said that Swiss Army sappers, supported by other KFOR troops[25] had cleared three of the roadblocks but claimed that there were still at least five blocks remaining on the two roads leading to Serbia.[26] The Kosovar Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi ordered Serbia's Minister for Kosovo and Metohija Goran Bogdanović and the head of the Serbian negotiation team, Borislav Stefanović, to be deported after allegedly having entered Kosovo illegally.[27] The next day, however, some roadblocks remained in place with all major roads being completely sealed off. Agence France Press reported of a severe food crisis and a shortage of medicines in the North.[28] KFOR then requested a battalion of 550 German soldiers, assisted by 150 Austrian troops, to reinforce its presence in the north in order to deal with a possible future unrest.[29]

On 3 August, Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi reiterated a refusal to back down on his trade ban as some of the roadblocks remained in place across the North.[citation needed] A deal was later struck to allow KFOR to control the border crossings in return for the dismantling of the blockades.[11] KFOR helicopters were then used to bypass the roadblocks and establish a skeletal EULEX and Kosovo Police and Customs presence at the border crossings.[30]

September–December[edit]

Peaceful protests in Zvečan, 30 July.

On 16 September tensions reignited after the Kosovo Police, EULEX and NATO units airlifted troops from Kosovo-proper to the two border posts in an effort to re-establish control over the North. Local Serbs then blocked all the major routes leading to the two border crossings, including two major bridges connecting the divided town of Mitrovica and vowed to stay there "until the bitter end,"[who?] causing all the troops as the border crossings to be virtually isolated from the rest of Kosovo. The European media reported that youths from both the Albanian and Serbian communities pelted each other with rocks near one of the blocked bridges[which?] which then led to a KFOR intervention to stop the violence.[31]

The previous night passed without incident in most of northern Kosovo, except for a minor incident near Zupče and Cabra with shots being fired in the area, because of an increased police presence in Mitrovica. After the shooting, Kosovar Serbs set-up another barricade next to an already existing encampment in Zupče, on the road from Mitrovica to Ribarici; gravel was unloaded across both lanes of the road leading to the southern part of Mitrovica. The next day there were similar clashes at the roadblocks after they were reinforced with more Serb protesters and Kosovo Police officers.[32][33] On 18 September, makeshift roadblocks were still visible as the local Serbs continued to block roads, amidst promises to maintain the roadblocks until a dialogue begins about who would man the border crossings and what will happen with the revenue collected from the customs duty.[34]

On 19 September, KFOR helicopters dropped hundreds of leaflets urging the Serbs to end their roadblocks. The five sentence leaflet, written in Serbian Cyrillic, warned citizens that blocking roads was against the law and therefore such a move "is not in line with peaceful demonstrations. Blocking roads represent[s a] danger for all in extraordinary situations, because there is no possibility to deliver help to those in need." Confirming the air drop, KFOR spokesman Ralph Adametz said that the leaflets were dropped at the barricades close to border crossings 1 and 31. He described the overall situation as unchangeable, but underlined the need for opening blocked roads. KFOR said the mission "recognises the right for peaceful protests and demonstrations" but "blocking roads doesn't represent any accepted way for expressing your concerns." The air drop began hours after the head EULEX, Xavier de Marnhac, visited the two disputed crossings. According to him, both crossings were technically ready to be fully operational but the barricades that had been put up on nearby roads prevented the gates from being utilised.[35]

On 27 September, four soldiers were injured by pipe bomb explosions. NATO spokesman Kai Gudenoge then said that German[36] KFOR troops were forced to fire rubber bullets and tear gas in self-defence against Kosovan Serb protesters after being attacked at border crossing Gate 1 following an attempt by Kosovar Serbs to erect a new roadblock after KFOR blocked an alternative road to Serbia proper. Five of the protesters were arrested. Hospital officials in northern Kosovo said seven Serb protesters were also wounded from gunfire which erupted in the afternoon in Jarinje. Head of Mitrovica hospital Milan Jakovljevic said the wounded had been brought to his hospital for medical treatment. "We can't say if anyone has life threatening injures at this moment, since we are assessing their current extent of the injuries." The Kosovar government in Pristina said that it was working with both KFOR and EULEX in the quest to open the barricaded roads in the north. The local media in Mitrovica reported that two EULEX vehicles are set on fire.[37][38]

Kosovo's ethnic divisions

KFOR's commander said that his troops would forcibly remove roadblocks on 17 October if Kosovar Serbs did not voluntarily do so.[39] KFOR's General Erhard Drews said that "KFOR is ready and resolved to take action on behalf of freedom of movement."[30] However, Kosovar Serbs said that they would take "defensive action" to counter KFOR's attempts at forcibly removing the roadblocks.[40] Though the deadline passed to remove the roadblocks, KFOR troops who were sent to remove them left without incident in an effort to give the local Serbs more time to do so themselves. A KFOR commander said that "we've been given orders to go back, as we cannot go through barricades." Drews said that with the defiance of the ultimatum as "the north did not comply with the request to remove the roadblocks." In response, Kosovar Serb politicians said that any KFOR operations would be halted till 19 October for community leaders to discuss a possible compromise solution. Slavisa Ristic, mayor of Zubin Potok, said that "there will be no KFOR actions today or tomorrow until representatives of (Serb) municipalities agree on how to end the impasse."[11][30]

On the morning of 20 October, KFOR and EULEX clashed with Kosovar Serbs near Brnjak,[41] resulting in the injuries of 22 Serbs, including women and three serious injuries, as well as eight KFOR injuries. KFOR then entered North Kosovo after failing to reach an agreement of free movement inside four of the Serb municipalities of Kosovo.[42][43] On the same day in Dobruša, near Peć, a Serb was killed and two other Serbs were injured by an Albanian perpetrator, who later gave himself up to the Kosovo police.[44] Another peaceful protest was held in Gračanica by a few thousand Serbs.[45] At this time, the majority of Serbs south of Ibar, beyond North Kosovo, still depend on Serbia,[vague] while only 5% are talking with Kosovan Albanian institutions.[45]

On 24 October an Albanian from southern Mitrovica took a bulldozer and tried to destroy the barricade at the bridge, but was stopped by the Kosovo police.[46]

On the night of 23 November, KFOR tried to remove a barricade in the village of Dudin Krš.[47] They withdrew about an hour and a half after midnight.[47] Afterwards, an explosion went off in 01:00 CET in northern Mitrovica near the Faculty of Economy, which damaged two cars.[47] A total of 21 KFOR/NATO soldiers were lightly injured, one of them seriously, in the night between 23 and 24 November.[48]

On 20 December, Zvonko and Zarko Veselinovic, who had allegedly organised the 27 and 28 September barricades at Jarinje and Jagnjenica, respectively, were arrested on Kopaonik by Serbian police, which caused controversy in the Serbian public.[49]

June 2012[edit]

Shortly after Serbia's new President Tomislav Nikolic took office,[50] on 1 June, in Zvečan KFOR German troops[51] blocked a bridge with armoured vehicles and barbed wire in an attempt to remove a roadblock, causing a confrontation with several hundred protesters who threw rocks at them.[52] The soldiers were then reported to have fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas, which led to a further conflagration with Kosovan Serbs retaliating using handguns. Four Serbs and two German soldiers were wounded.[53] Spokesman Colonel Uwe Nowitzky said: "KFOR condemns this act of violence. KFOR will not allow the situation to escalate and will use a proportional level of force necessary to maintain a safe and secure environment." KFOR also said it would continue to seek the removal of roadblocks, while Kosovan Serbs vowed that those affiliated with the government in Pristina would not be able to impose their writ on the north. Zvečan's mayor Dragiša Milović said that KFOR refused to allow Serb medical personnel to assist the wounded Serbs. "A commander told me they have the authority to use deadly force on anyone who throws a stone or uses a weapon.[54]

Response[edit]

Kosovo

Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi said of the initial police operation that it was a "concrete step in establishing the rule of law [in North Kosovo]." He also added that through co-operation with the "international community...the constitution and the sovereignty of my country are sacred for myself and for my countrymen and go beyond any partnership or loyalty."[13]

On 3 August, Kosovo[who?] stated that it would not accept a KFOR-Serbia deal which included moving road blocks in northern Kosovo.[55] The next day Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj accused Serbia of seeking to exploit the increased tensions to pursue what he called Serbia's "long-held dream of partitioning the region."[56]

Serbia

During the first phase of clashes, Serbia asked Lebanon and Germany to hold an emergency meeting at the UN. Russia and China also supported the Serbian request; however the United States and the United Kingdom were opposed to the move as they wanted the Kosovo issue to be discussed at the UN next month. The UN approved the Serbian request and the UN emergency meeting was to be held on 28 July, and will be held behind closed doors.[57] President Boris Tadić's office also condemned the violence:[58] "The hooligans who are sparking violence are not defending either the people or the Serb state. The people must refrain from violence."[59]

After the first phase of the clashes the State Secretary for Kosovo Oliver Ivanović said that "one act of violence produces more violence. I am afraid we are entering a spiral of violence. Reuters also quoted the chief negotiator of a Serbian team trying to find a solution to the violence, Borko Stefanović as saying that: "This violent act, an act of criminals and extremists, represents a clear attempt to undermine the process we are pursuing and the attempts to resolve all the issues in a peaceful manner. This greatly aggravates the position of Serbs in the north of Kosovo and Metohija and is not contributing to the resolution of the problems which had brought us here in the past couple of days."[13]

Goran Bogdanović, the Serbian Minister of Kosovo and Metohija, said that Kosovan Serb officials and KFOR needed to reach an agreement and asked for KFOR and the Kosovan Serbs to stop the violence as the initiation of talk on 19 October talks showed Serb willingness for a peaceful solution.[60] Vuk Jeremić also said that KFOR needed to stop instigating violence and stressed that the UNSC Resolution 1244 should be respected as it sought a peaceful solution.[61]
KFOR-EULEX

On 29 September, Erhard Drews took over command of KFOR.[62]

On 19 October, talks between KFOR and Kosovar Serb officials began. KFOR gave the ultimatum of free movement inside North Kosovo by KFOR and EULEX vehicles, which was accepted however an EULEX presence was rejected. KFOR officials however insisted that EULEX had to be also be given entry. As a result the talks remained deadlocked.[63] KFOR Lieutenant Colonel Ralf Adamec said that KFOR had no plan to use force to remove the barricades, but that it nevertheless had the right to use force, "for now, we do not need to use force."[64] Goran Bogdanović said that the Kosovar Serb officials and KFOR needed to reach an agreement and asked for KFOR and the Kosovan Serbs to stop the violence.[60] The Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Jeremić added that KFOR needed to stop its cycle of violence and stressed that UN Resolution 1244 needed to be respected as it sought a peaceful solution.[61]

Supranational bodies
  • The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton issued a statement after the initial clashes that read: "I strongly condemn the violence that has taken place in northern Kosovo. These latest developments are unacceptable." She also added that it was the "responsibility" of the Serbian and Kosovar government to restore peace between the two "nations." Her deputy spokesperson, Maja Kocijančič, said that Kosovo's unilateral decision to take over the border posts was "not helpful. It was not done in consultation neither with the European Union nor the international community and we do not approve [of] it." (sic)[9]
  • At the same time, a NATO statement read: "The situation deteriorated at the customs post Jarinje and it was confirmed that an act of arson was committed against that position. There have also been confirmed reports of shots fired at KFOR personnel in the vicinity."[13]
Other countries

Referendum[edit]

In February 2012, four northern Serb-dominated regions held a non-binding referendum to ask if the institutions of Kosovo should be recognised.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

a. ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.

References[edit]

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