Serbia has formally made a request to NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) that its security forces be deployed to Kosovo amid a drastic increase of political and ethnic tensions.
Speaking with Serbian state media, President Aleksandar Vucic said that a request to deploy up to 1,000 troops has been made, in which he previously cited security concerns for the safety of ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. Vucic said that the request would likely be denied, as NATO officials say such a move will likely stoke a ethnic conflict, but wanted it on record anyways.
To understand the dispute, we need to look at a very brief history of recent Kosovo and Serbia ethnic relations regarding the license plate dispute. Kosovo, which is majority ethnic-Albanian, declared independence from Serbia back in 2008, which Serbia rejected as illegal. Ethnic relations have already been tense between Kosovar Albanians and Serbians for two decades following the Kosovo War, which resulted in over 13,000 casualties. Kosovo’s Serbian ethnic minority is still predominantly loyal to Belgrade and also rejects Kosovo’s independence. In recent years, Kosovo’s government has sought to ban Serbian license plates issued before 1999, which are almost exclusively used by ethnic Serbs, and only allow license plates issued by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 1999 to 2010 or Kosovo “RKS” license plates issued from 2011 and onward. Likewise, Serbia does not accept vehicles with RKS plates to cross the border, which are used primarily by ethnic Albanians.
Political and ethnic tensions skyrocketed as Kosovo attempted to move forward in banning Serbian license plates and issuing fines for those who do not comply. To protest attempts to ban the license plates, ethnic Serbian police officers, judges, and government officials in Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo resigned en masse in protest. The resignations have spurred fears of increased ethnic violence and political volatility.
Last week, Albanian-Kosovar officials deployed special police forces to Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo “to provide security for all citizens” as snap elections were set to begin following the mass resignation of ethnic-Serb officials. The presence of Albanian-Kosovar forces in Serb-majority neighborhoods unsurprisingly led to a flare up of tensions. At least one Kosovar police officer was wounded last Thursday night when ethnic-Serb locals opened fire on a patrol car.
In response, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic threatened to deploy Serbian forces into Kosovo, saying that “We are close to requesting the return of our forces to Kosovo under Resolution 1244, because [NATO] KFOR is not doing its job,” adding that “Serbs [in northern Kosovo] do not feel safe and are physically and life threatened.” Likewise, Vucic considered troop deployment to monitor the local elections in Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, which were previously set for December 15, but have been postponed until April.