Vucic: Serbs in northern Kosovo will start removing barricades
Serbia's President says Serbs in northern Kosovo will start removing barricades after receiving guarantees that none of them will be prosecuted or arrested.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that Serbs in northern Kosovo will start removing barricades on Thursday morning.
"It is a long process. It will take a while," Vucic said after meeting Serbs from northern Kosovo in the Serbian town of Raska, as quoted by Reuters.
On December 10, Serbs in the north of Kosovo began setting up barricades in protest against the arrest of several Serb police officers by the Kosovar authorities over accusations of war crimes and terrorism dating back to the 1998-1999 conflict.
On December 11, Vucic held a national security council meeting and accused Kosovo of violating existing agreements after Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti urged the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force to dismantle road barricades erected by Serbs in Kosovo.
Kosovo warned that if the NATO-led mission refused to step in, its security forces would carry out the operation themselves.
Earlier this week, Serbs in the north of Kosovo mounted new barricades on key roads to and from Serbia. Several days prior, Kosovar police said the Jarinje and Brnjak border checkpoints were closed by barricades.
On Wednesday, former police officer Dejan Pantic, whose arrest spurred another wave of protests by Kosovo's Serb minority, was released from custody and put under house arrest.
Bilateral tensions have been running high since last month when ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo quit their jobs in state institutions, including the police and judiciary, over the Kosovo government's decision to replace Serbian-issued car license plates.
Serbs in northern Kosovo resigned from public institutions in protest over the row on vehicle number plates.
This comes after a Serbian official said on Wednesday that Vucic has called on Serbs in Kosovo to end protests against the Pristina government, reassuring them that they would be immune from prosecution.
"We have received guarantees from the United States and European Union that none of the Serbs in Kosovo who participated in protests and who took part in barricades will be prosecuted or arrested," confirmed Petar Petkovic, head of Serbia's government office for Kosovo, in a press briefing.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia and Serbs in north Kosovo have refused to recognize that.
Tension between #Kosovo and #Serbia after the former's new law. pic.twitter.com/2JYvWaoXMN— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) August 1, 2022
"We also received guarantees that Kosovo Security Forces will not come to Serb majority north of Kosovo without consent of KFOR commander and representatives of local population," Petkovic indicated.
On Tuesday, "Serbia’s president … ordered the Serbian army to be on the highest level of combat readiness, that is to the level of the use of armed force," Serbia’s Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said in a statement.
Vucevic added that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also ordered the special armed forces to be increased from 1,500 to 5,000.
Serbia's Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic said he "ordered the full combat readiness" of police and other security units, adding that they will be placed under the army chief of staff's command according to "their operational plan."
Gasic said in a statement that he acted on Vucic's orders so that "all measures be taken to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo."
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic had warned that the situation in Kosovo is on the brink of armed conflict.
It is worth noting that Security Council Resolution No. 1244 confirms that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and that arbitrary treatment of the principle of territorial integrity, with regard to a sovereign state, can only be considered a blatant interference in its internal affairs.