Tensions rise in northern Kosovo, Serbia puts army on alert

Mitrovica, Kosovo, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Serb protesters erected new barricades on Tuesday in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. Pristina on Tuesday, hours after Serbia said it had put its army on the highest combat alert following weeks of tensions between Belgrade and Belgrade.

Serbia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement late Monday that President Aleksandar Vucic had ordered Serbia’s army and police into combat in response to recent developments in the region and the belief that Kosovo is preparing to attack Serbs and forcefully remove barricades. highest alert.

“There is no reason to panic, but there is reason to be concerned,” Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vucevic told RTS TV on Monday evening.

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Since December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo have repeatedly set up barricades in and around Mitrovica and clashed with police after a former Serb police officer was arrested for allegedly attacking police officers on duty during an earlier demonstration.

About 50,000 Serbs live in the predominantly Albanian northern part of Kosovo and refuse to recognize the government and state of Pristina. They see Belgrade as their capital and are supported by Serbia, which declared Kosovo independent in 2008.

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“Kosovo cannot enter into dialogue with criminal gangs and freedom of movement must be restored. There must be no roadblocks,” the Kosovo government said in a statement on Monday.

It added that the police had the capacity and readiness to act, but that KFOR, the peacekeeping force in Kosovo, which maintains a neutral NATO role, was waiting to respond to their request to remove the barriers.

“We call on all parties to promote security and free movement in Kosovo and not to influence the dialogue process by misleading narratives,” KFOR said in a statement.

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In Mitrovica, trucks were stopped on Tuesday morning to block the road that connects the predominantly Serb and Albanian part of the city.

Local Serbs are demanding the release of the arrested officer and other demands before the barricades are removed.

Ethnic Serb mayors of northern municipalities, local judges and some 600 police officers resigned last month in protest at the Kosovo government’s decision to replace Serbian car number plates with those issued by Pristina.

Reporting by Fatos Bytychi and Ivana Secularak, editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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