Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic placed the country’s army on full combat alert and ordered his units to move closer to the Kosovo border on Friday after protesters and police clashed in a majority-Serb town in Kosovo.
“An urgent movement (of troops) was ordered towards the Kosovo border,” Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said in a live television broadcast. “It is clear that terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening,” he said.
Police and protesters clashed in the Kosovo town of Zvecan after a crowd gathered outside the municipality building, trying to prevent a newly elected ethnic Albanian mayor from entering his office. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Later, a police car was set on fire, Reuters reporters said. The protests follow widely boycotted local elections. Some 50,000 Serbs living in four northern Kosovo municipalities, including Zvecan, rejected the April 23 vote in protest that their demands for more autonomy were not met, a further setback for the March peace deal between Kosovo and Serbia.
Voter turnout was 3.47% and local Serbs said they would not work with the new mayors of the four municipalities, all from ethnic Albanian parties, because they do not represent them. Early elections on April 23 were largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs and only representatives of ethnic Albanians or other smaller minorities were elected to mayoral positions and assemblies.
Earlier, the Pristina Police issued a statement saying that they were helping the newly elected mayors to get into the municipal offices in the four northern municipalities.
The mayor of Zvecan was successfully escorted to his office, Reuters reporters heard on police radio.
The Serbs of the northern region of Kosovo do not accept the declaration of independence of Serbia from Kosovo, 2008, almost a decade after the end of the war there, and they still see Belgrade as their capital.
Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population of Kosovoand Serbs are only the majority in the northern region.
The Western-backed plan agreed orally by the Kosovo and Serbian governments in March was aimed at defusing tensions by giving local Serbs more autonomy, with the Pristina government retaining ultimate authority.
The conflict in Kosovo erupted in 1998 when ethnic Albanian separatists rebelled against the Serbian government, and Serbia responded with a brutal crackdown. some died 13.000 personas, mostly ethnic Albanian. NATO military intervention in 1999 finally forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory. Washington and most EU countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia, Russia and China have not.