‘Quietly endure’: north Kosovo braves security vacuum after resignations


Mitrovica, Kosovo (AFP): With no police to call or courts to turn to, Serbs in northern Kosovo are stuck in the middle of another bout of unrest after a mass walkout triggered new uncertainty amid the unending tug-of-war with Serbia.

For three months, residents living in Kosovo’s northern Serb enclaves have gone without basic bureaucratic services—including law enforcement, courts, and local government institutions.

Those wishing to divorce, buy an apartment, or report an abusive spouse in Serb areas have nowhere to go, officially speaking.

“There is no police, nobody I can turn to. We must quietly endure. There is no alternative,” Vasilije Milojevic, an 83-year-old Serb pensioner living in the northern city of Mitrovica told AFP.

Residents in the areas who spoke to AFP say they have increasingly been forced to look out for each other amid the newest crisis, insisting the situation is worrying but under control.

“The neighbours are here for each other. We also have dogs in the backyard,” said Dzelal Kazagic, 69.

For nearly 25 years, Mitrovica has been the focal point of friction between arch adversaries Kosovo and Serbia, with a river dividing the town separating ethnic Albanians in the south from Serbs in the north.

To help keep the peace in the north, Kosovo institutions have largely drawn personnel from their own population allowing Serb areas to fill administrative offices with their ethnic kin.

The Serbs have remained largely loyal to Belgrade and refused to recognise the Kosovo government, with critics accusing them of serving as proxies stirring unrest at Serbia’s behest.

“I don’t have the impression that what Belgrade is after is the rights of the Serbs, what they are after is using the presence of the Serbs to undermine our democratic status,” Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti told AFP, discussing the situation in a recent interview.

In November, civil servants in Serb-majority areas walked off the job en masse, with police, judges and even members of parliament resigning amid a series of disputes between Kosovo and Serbia.

The move followed months of escalating tensions as the Kosovo government in Pristina unveiled several measures aimed at solidifying greater control over its territory, including new rules involving ID cards and car plates.

The plans triggered a fierce backlash in the north, with barricades appearing at the borders with Serbia along with scattered shootings targeting Kosovo police and international peacekeeping troops.

The renewed tensions come as officials in both Serbia and Kosovo admit they are under increasing pressure from Western governments to hammer out a deal soon to resolve their longstanding differences and reach some sort of compromise.

The festering dispute has lingered for more than two decades since ethnic Albanian insurgents and Serbian forces waged an all-out war in the late 1990s—triggering a NATO intervention and the withdrawal of Belgrade’s troops and government personnel from the breakaway province.

Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 was outright rejected by Belgrade, whose powerful allies including Russia and China blocked the would-be state’s accession to international institutions, including the United Nations.

The two sides have held on-again-off-again talks for years between bouts of rioting, protests and other violence that has kept Kosovo largely on the back foot.

Amid the latest tussle, authorities in Pristina insist the situation up north remains under control.

Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla dismissed talk of a security vacuum, saying the government remained firmly capable of providing “law and order”.

“The Kosovo Police is more functional than ever there,” Svecla told AFP.

“There are difficulties, that is clear. But these difficulties are being created as a result of the actions by criminal groups there, which are also supported, backed and promoted by Serbia.”

But for those hoping to live a normal life, there are new barricades for the most mundane of tasks.

One 39-year-old business owner from north Mitrovica—who spoke on condition of anonymity due to local pressure against talking with the press—said her family was in the process of buying a new apartment when the mass resignations hit.

With no one to notarise the documents they have shuffled between Mitrovica and Pristina hoping to cut through the red tape, but to no avail.

“My impression is that nobody cares about ordinary people, neither those in Mitrovica or those in Pristina,” she told AFP.

“If… those who left the institutions were thinking about what we citizens are going to do, they would do something to prevent us from getting into these situations.”

Unease is also simmering among Mitrovica’s ethnic Albanian population which largely lives to the south of the Ibar River separating the communities.

“Having no police to maintain order is a dangerous thing. It can easily get out of control,” said Nexhmedin Beka, a 53-year-old machine operator.

“How should the problems in the north be solved? I would give them everything—even autonomy—if they would just recognise Kosovo.”


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