The European Union on December 12 urged Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate the tense situation in the region as U.S. envoys headed to Pristina after Serb protesters in northern Kosovo blocked main roads for a second day on December 11.
The latest protests were triggered by the arrest on December 10 of ethnic Serb police officer Dejan Pantic, who was part of a mass resignation of Serbs from the force last month.
The move came after Pristina said it would require Serbs to scrap Serbian license plates dating to before the 1998-99 Kosovo War that led to independence.
Kosovo, which used to be part of Serbia, fought a war against Belgrade in 1998-1999, and eventually declared independence in 2008, a move quickly endorsed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and most major European powers, but rejected by the Serbs and their ally Russia.
Ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo have been using car plates issued by Serbian institutions since the end of the war, plates regarded as illegal by the Kosovo government but tolerated until now in four northern municipalities with Serb majorities.
Explosions and shootings were reported as tensions rose between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs after six roadblocks were set up in solidarity with Pantic, who was charged with domestic terrorism after being accused of allegedly attacking state offices, election commission offices, police officers, and election officials in northern Kosovo.
No injuries have been reported from the violence that broke out on the night of December 10-11 following Pantic’s arrest and after Serbian officials suggested that Serbian military and police could be sent in across the Balkan countries’ partially recognized border.
“I know the two parts are willing to de-escalate and I strongly call on the two of them to do it,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said as he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on December 12.
“They have to come back to the dialogue, they have to overcome this tendency to fighting in the street,” Borrell said.
The U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet are expected in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, on December 12 where they are to hold talks with Kosovar leaders to look into ways to reduce tensions in the region.
For a second day on December 11, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles blocked several main roads leading to two border crossings with Serbia. Both crossings were closed to traffic.
EULEX, the European Union mission tasked with patrolling northern Kosovo, said a stun grenade was thrown at one of its armored vehicles in the evening on December 10, but no one was injured. Borrell said that was unacceptable.
The U.S. embassies in Pristina and Belgrade said in a joint statement that the United States “expresses deep concern about the current situation in the north of Kosovo.”
Kosovar and Serbian officials have increasingly engaged in heated rhetoric in recent days, despite the postponement of contentious municipal elections that angered ethnic Serbs and international efforts to broker a deal to ease tensions over the dispute over license plates.