MITROVICA, Kosovo, Dec. 11 (Reuters) – Serb protesters in northern Kosovo blocked main roads for a second day on Sunday after a nighttime shootout with police following the arrest of a former Serbian police officer, amid rising tensions between authorities and the Serbian minority in Kosovo.
In recent weeks, Serbs in northern Kosovo, a hotbed of Serbian nationalism, have responded with violence to actions by Pristina they consider anti-Serb.
EULEX, the European Union mission tasked with patrolling northern Kosovo, said a stun grenade was thrown at one of its armored vehicles on Saturday night, but no one was injured.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned the bloc will not tolerate violence against members of its mission.
“#EU will not tolerate attacks on @EULEXKosovo or the use of violent criminal acts in the north. Barricades must be immediately removed by groups of Kosovo Serbs. Calm must be restored,” he wrote on Twitter.
The latest protests were triggered by the arrest of a former police officer on Saturday. He was part of a mass dismissal of Serbs from the force last month, after Pristina said Serbs should scrap Serbian number plates from before the 1998-1999 Kosovo war that led to independence.
For the second day on Sunday, trucks and other heavy vehicles blocked several main roads leading to two border crossings with Serbia. Both intersections were closed to traffic.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has asked the NATO mission KFOR to remove the barricades.
“We are calling KFOR to ensure freedom of movement (and remove roadblocks) … KFOR is asking for more time to complete this … so we are waiting,” Kurti said.
Late Saturday, Kosovo police said they came under fire at several locations near a lake on the border with Serbia. The force said it had to fire back in self-defense. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
EU PLAN IN DANGER
Police in Pristina said former police officer Dejan Pantic was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly assaulting state offices, smashing the windows of the offices of the Election Commission and police officers and election officials.
Serbian mayors in municipalities in northern Kosovo, along with local judges and some 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest at a government decision to replace license plates issued by Belgrade with those issued by Pristina.
On his Instagram page, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said “there will be no surrender” in Kosovo, but added that Belgrade will “continue the fight for peace by all legal means”.
Vucic said on Saturday Belgrade would ask KFOR to allow Serbia to deploy troops and police to Kosovo, though he acknowledged there was no chance permission would be granted.
“We are not seeking conflict, but dialogue and peace. But let me be clear: the Republic of Kosovo will defend itself vigorously and resolutely,” Kurti said in response to Vucic’s remarks.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the support of the West, following the 1998–1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo.
Last July, local Serbs set up barricades to object to a decision that would require them to request documents and number plates from Kosovo institutions.
Kosovo and Serbia are holding talks in Brussels to try to normalize relations and the EU has already presented a plan.
Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Florion Goga and Ognen Teofilovski; Edited by Susan Fenton and Ros Russell
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