Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has placed the country’s military on full combat readiness alert and ordered forces to be placed along the border with Kosovo. This comes as Kosovar police and ethnic-Serbs clashed in ethnic-Serba majority regions of northern Kosovo over the installment of an ethnic-Albanian mayor in the town of Zvecan.
To understand the dispute, we need to look at a very brief history of recent Kosovo and Serbia ethnic relations, specifically regarding the ongoing 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.
?? More than 200 armed commandos of the #Kosovo police, accompanied by armored vehicles, entered Northern Mitrovica, where the majority of Serbs live. According to media reports, special forces are there to ensure security. pic.twitter.com/wkfixAIXPm
— Mete Sohtao?lu (@metesohtaoglu) December 9, 2022
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 decision to implement fines for the license plates was ultimately postponed by Kosovo last November due to the rapid rise in tensions with both the ethnic-Serb population and neighboring Serbia.
Due to the resignations in protest of the license plate measures, snap elections were to be held in December in northern Kosovo in the ethnic-Serb municipalities of Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok. Albanian-Kosovar officials deployed special police forces to the Serb-majority municipalities “to provide security for all citizens,” however, their presence unsurprisingly led to a flare up of tensions and clashes, which ultimately caused the elections to be postponed until April. In response to the clashes, 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.”
?? Clashes between members of Kosovo special forces and Serbs
?The Minister of Defense of #Serbia confirms the urgent advance of the army to the administrative border with Kosovo pic.twitter.com/5QHt6Xmnfd
— ?-???? (@L_Team10) May 26, 2023
Elections were finally held when April rolled around, however, ethnic-Serbs boycotted them in protest as well, which was backed by Belgrade. Due to the boycott, ethnic-Albanians won the elections for the municipalities and took their positions this Friday. Protests held in Zvecan and attempts to block the officials from entering their offices quickly deteriorated into clashes between ethnic-Serbs and Kosavar police, which resulted in several injuries. Serbian officials condemned the Kosovar police response, calling for rapid troop deployment to the border because “It is clear that the terror against the Serb community in Kosovo is happening.”