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North Mitrovica barricaded for 20 days: closer to an agreement or an armed conflict?

It’s been almost three weeks since the North of Mitrovica woke up barricaded across the roads leading to the crossing-border points with Serbia. Although the situation has been tense for a while, barricades were set up on December 10, by masked persons, members of serbian criminal groups operating in the north of Mitrovica. This part of Kosova still continues to be blocked as a response to the arrest of former police officer Dejan Pantic, on charges of organizing a terrorist attack on the offices of the Municipal Electoral Commission in the north, at the beginning of this month.

Pantic, former member of the Kosova Police, resigned together with hundreds of other police officers from the serbian community, after Kosova authorities suspended the director of police for the northern region, Nenad Gjuriq, as the latter declared that he would not implemented Government’s decision on license plates. Resignation of the Serbs from Kosova institutions was then joined by the Serbian officials in the Assembly, Government, local government, Court and other institutions of Kosova, as they say, until the Government of Kosova withdraws from the license plate plan. 

However, despite being accused of a terrorist attack on the institutions of Kosova, Pantic was released under house arrest, today. Pantic’s change of measure today, can be understood as a signal given by the Government of Kosova that there is still room for dialogue with Serbia. Although it is being interpreted as a failure of the Government, to judge the organizer of a terrorist attack. Having in mind that this is another step that Kosova Government has taken to pave the way of de-escalation in the north. Recently, Kosova President, Vjosa Osmani as a result of the tense situation, decided to postpone elections for mayor of municipalities in the north of the Republic of Kosova.

It is clear that Serbia is the one that constantly provokes tension, barricades placed in the north are product of Vucic’s diplomacy and for years they have been operating with his instructions in the north of Kosova, they are waiting for such a moment to destabilize the country. Also the government of Kosova has tried several times to strengthen the rule of law in north Mitrovica, but didn’t succeed. Tension has been increased even more by the request of Serbian President Aleksander Vucic to KFOR, for deploying about thousand serbian military troops in Kosova, invoking the resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council. This request is still being reviewed, stated KFOR days before.

While the Serbian side is waiting for KFOR’s answer, last night they have set up barricades inside the territory of Serbia in the place called Kursumlija, approximately two kilometers from the border crossing in Merdare. As a result, Kosova citizens who were traveling from diaspora on this route, were stuck in front of the barricades for hours. Meanwhile, the government of Kosovo has called for the use of other border crossing points. 

However, about 16 barricades till now have been placed in the north of Mitrovica and the surrounding villages, preventing the free movement of citizens in this area. In a way, the serb citizens of the north are remained hostages of criminal gangs, barricades being set every day are making their life difficult and impossible to communicate with the rest of Kosova. While KFOR’s mandate is to guarantee the free movement of citizens within the territory of Kosova, they have failed to prevent the installation of new barricades. In addition to this, KFOR was also the target of attacks on Sunday, December 25th evening by Serbian criminal gangs. Since December 10, members of EULEX, Kosovo Police and dozens of journalists have been attacked by illegal structures in the north. 

The serious situation continues to present the potential to turn all this mess into an armed conflict as a result of Serbia’s continuous provocations. All this is happening in front of the EU and the international community, while the latter are racing to reveal non-papers for the final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. Vucic, after a meeting with the chief of the serbian army, has decide to bring heavy military vehicles, including tanks, two kilometers from the Kosovo border. Serbia had taken similar actions in the past by demonstrating military planes along the border line with Kosovo. At a time when security in the world is on the upswing, due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, Serbia has chosen to stand by Russia and is openly contributing to light the fire in the Balkans as well.