Kosovo police say interior ministry offices attacked in volatile north

PRISTINA – Kosovo police said on September 25 that two Kosovo Interior Ministry offices were attacked in the north of the country.

The attacks took place in most ethnic Serbian communities near border posts which were blocked by local Serbs in protest against Kosovo’s ban on cars with Serbian license plates entering the country.

The Interior Ministry’s vehicle registration center in the town of Zubin Potok was set on fire, Kosovar police said in a statement.

Authorities said the fire damaged the ground floor of the building and affected the offices of the Interior Ministry as well as the library of the local House of Culture. “

In the nearby town of Zvecan, two hand grenades were thrown at the Civil Status Center in the Municipal Assembly building but did not explode, authorities said.

There have been no reports of casualties.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said both attacks were intentional, accusing Serbia of “encouraging and supporting” attacks against the state of Kosovo.

“Serbia is using citizens of Kosovo to provoke a serious international conflict,” Kurti said.

“Individuals or groups whose criminal activities endanger the rule of law and public order are attacking our state and disturbing the peace,” Kurti wrote on Facebook. “They are clearly encouraged and supported by Serbia, namely the autocratic regime there.”

Ethnic Serbs have used hundreds of vehicles to block two main roads in northern Kosovo near the border with Serbia since Pristina’s ban on Serbian license plates went into effect on September 20.

Meanwhile, special Kosovar police units are stationed at the Jarinje and Brnjak border posts.

An AFP correspondent reported seeing Serbian fighter jets flying over the border area twice around noon on September 25.

Serbian military helicopters were seen on 24 September repeatedly flying over border posts blocked by demonstrators of Serbian ethnicity.

Helicopters serving NATO’s peacekeeping force KFOR have also made regular flights over the region since the start of the conflict.

The Kosovo ban requires all drivers in Serbia to use temporary printed check-in information valid for 60 days.

The government in Pristina says the ban resembles the measures Serbia has imposed on Kosovo drivers since 2008, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

Belgrade does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and many Serbs in northern Kosovo also consider themselves citizens of Serbia.

Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said the latest attacks would not prevent the government from implementing its ban on Serbian license plates throughout Kosovo.

“These criminal actions best illustrate what would happen at the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings if we did not have the presence of special units to ensure order and security,” Svecla said on Facebook on September 25. “Despite such actions, we will continue with our full commitment to implement the [Serbian license plate ban] throughout the territory of the Republic of Kosovo. “

Meanwhile, the Kosovo Ministry of Defense denies reports that the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) is preparing to deploy troops to northern Kosovo.

“The misinformation that the KSF is preparing military troops for an intervention in northern Kosovo is completely false,” the defense ministry said in a statement on September 24.

He said such reports were an attempt to “misinform the public and present a situation of insecurity for our citizens of the Serbian community”.

Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia are now at their highest level in years.

The NATO mission in Kosovo, where alliance troops maintain a fragile peace, called for restraint.

The European Union and the United States called for dialogue between the two sides on the issue to prevent tensions from escalating further.

Kurti called on Serbia to start recognizing Kosovo car license plates to allow free movement of people and goods.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Kosovo should first withdraw police units sent by Pristina to northern Kosovo to help enforce registration measures.

Serbia and Kosovo engaged in an EU-sponsored dialogue in 2013 to try to resolve the outstanding issues. But little progress has been made.

Kosovo’s independence is recognized by 110 countries, including the United States, Great Britain, and most Western states.

But Kosovo’s independence is not recognized by Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally, and five EU member states.

With reports from RFE / RL’s Balkan service correspondent Luljeta Krasniqi-Veseli and Reuters

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