Kosovan police thwart attempt to take over local government office by force

Kosovan police thwart attempt to take over local government office by force
By bne IntelliNews May 29, 2023

Kosovan police blocked an attempt by members of the Serbian community to take over the local government offices in the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan. 

Special police units were already deployed in the area after a violent protest on May 26 by Kosovan Serbs aimed at obstructing newly elected Albanian mayors from entering municipal buildings in four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo. 

Zvecan is one of the four municipalities that recently held local elections after Serb officials walked out of government positions. The votes were boycotted by almost all local Serbs, resulting in mayors and assembly members being elected among the ethnic Albanian or smaller minority groups. 

On the morning of May 29, ethnic Serbs gathered outside the government offices in  Zvecan, but their attempt to take over the building were thwarted by police. According to AP, the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) was also involved. 

Protesters threw tear gas at the police, who used pepper spray and “other legal means” to drive back the protesters, a police statement said. 

Police warned that other demonstrations are expected. “Today in the north of the country it was announced that protests / rallies will be held, so in this regard the Kosovo Police, recognising the right to public gatherings through peaceful protests, according to their official duty of preserving public order and peace, as well as duties defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo and valid laws,” says the statement posted on Facebook. 

Protesters have also gathered in front of government offices in other northern municipalities such as Leposavic and Zubin Potok, police said. 

On May 26, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reacted to the clashes in northern Kosovo, which is mainly populated by ethnic Serbs, by issuing an order for the Serbian army to elevate combat readiness to the highest level.

Earlier it was announced that there will be no classes at any schools in northern Kosovo starting from May 29 due to the presence of the Kosovan police in full military gear.

The decision was made in response to numerous calls and messages received by head teachers and class teachers from worried parents, who expressed deep concerns and fears regarding the safety of their children, particularly due to the presence of policemen along the routes to schools and the sight of transporters stationed at school entrances.

Kosovo’s Western partners have called on Pristina to exercise restraint and not to escalate the situation. 

“In this context, the Quint and EU’s expectation is that the authorities of the government of Kosovo will undertake no new measures to force access to the municipal buildings in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan. The elected mayors should also show restraint and take immediate action to demonstrate their commitment and responsibility to represent and serve all members of their communities,” the Quint countries, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US, said in a statement on May 28.

"At the same time, we strongly caution all parties against other threats or actions which could impact on a safe and secure environment, including freedom of movement, and that could inflame tensions or promote conflict. We are particularly concerned about the safety and welfare of civilians, police officers, EULEX, and KFOR members.

"New unilateral actions will negatively impact relations with the Quint countries and the EU," the statement concluded.