Seven days after Pristina introduced temporary RKS plates for Serbian license plates in Kosovo and the roads near Jarinje and Brnjak crossings were blocked by a group of local Serbs, the reaction of the NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, arrived. On the other hand, Borrell also confirmed that the arrival of Kurti and Vucic in Brussels in the coming days is the first positive step. „De-escalation“ – a new and the most commonly used term by international representatives when it comes to the latest developments in the north of Kosovo.
Stoltenberg: Belgrade & Pristina to show restraint & return to dialogue
The NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, spoke on the phone with the Serbian President and the Prime Minister of Kosovo today, after the Serbian Minister of Defense visited Jarinje today, accompanied by the Russian Ambassador to Serbia and the Russian Defense Envoy.
The head of NATO spoke to Aleksandar Vucic and Albin Kurti about the need to de-escalate the situation in the north of Kosovo.
“It’s vital both Belgrade and Pristina show restraint and return to dialogue,” Stoltenberg tweeted.
He repeated the set phrase NATO uses to describe its mission in Kosovo: “NATO/KFOR’s mandate remains to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all.”
Other international officials from the West also reacted today – some of them for the second time this week, after Russian Ambassador Botsan Kharchenko, accompanied by Major General Alexander Zinchenko and the Serbian Minister of Defense, who is also and the Deputy Prime Minister – Nebojsa Stefanovic, visited the Serbian combat forces in the Raska army barracks, as well as the Jarinje border crossing.
From Jarinje, Stefanovic and Kharchenko both assessed that Belgrade showed restraint, noting that the Kosovan side, on the other hand, gathered troops. Kharchenko also emphasized that Pristina – „shows a very dangerous line – pressure on Serbia to leave the dialogue, this is a line aimed at an ethnically pure Kosovo, a very dangerous line that could provoke a new conflict.“
He also criticized the „Western partners“ for their „very strange attitude“ – primarily the EU, but the United States as well for „turning a blind eye“.
„The good old double standards are no longer at work – but multiple ones,“ Kharchenko stressed.
Borrell: Immediately withdraw troops and dismantle the roadblocks, the arrival of chief negotiators to Brussels is a first positive step
“I continue to follow the situation in the north of Kosovo closely. Serbia and Kosovo need to unconditionally de-escalate the situation on the ground, by immediately withdrawing special police units and dismantling of roadblocks. Any further provocations or unilateral and uncoordinated actions are unacceptable. Kosovo and Serbia must find solutions to defuse the situation and agree on the way forward. The EU will actively support these efforts. Both Kosovo and Serbian leaders are fully responsible for any risks to the safety and well-being of local communities is on both Kosovo and Serbia. I stressed this in my calls with President Vucic and Prime Minister Kurti this week,” the High Representative, Josep Borrell, reminded of the message from a few days ago, although now somewhat harsher.
He stated that the EU-facilitated dialogue continues to be the only platform to address and resolve all open issues between Belgrade and Pristina, including those related to freedom of movement and license plates.
“I strongly urge Kosovo and Serbia to use it. Both Chief Negotiators coming to Brussels in the coming days is a first positive step. It is crucial that they come with a mandate to discuss the way forward and find sustainable solutions that are in the interests of the citizens,” he emphasized.
“We repeat that we expect both Kosovo and Serbia to return to fostering an environment conducive to reconciliation, regional stability and cooperation for the benefit of their citizens. This is crucial for reaching a comprehensive and legally-binding agreement on normalisation of their relations, which is necessary for both to advance on their respective European paths.”
Borrell stressed that he is in close touch with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg whom he also thanked for the excellent cooperation between KFOR and EULEX.
KFOR plays a key role in supporting regional stability in the Western Balkans – he concluded.
Rohde and Schutz: Both sides to talk to each other instead of about each other, any provocations at the border must stop
When it comes to the latest developments in the north, the most commonly used term by international representatives is „de-escalation“.
The German ambassador to Pristina, Jorn Rohde, and the director for the Western Balkans within the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Susanne Schutz, conveyed messages in a similar tone in two separate Twitter posts.
“The situation in the North needs deescalation. I urge both sides to talk to each other instead of about each other. Best way forward: Meet in Brussels to find a way out as soon as possible,” Rohde underlined.
“Any provocations at the Kosovo and Serbia border must stop. We urge both sides to deescalate and meet as soon as possible. Full support for EU Envoy, Miroslav Lajcak,” Schutz tweeted.
But in what mood did Miroslav Lajcak end his visit to the Serbian capital this Tuesday remains unknown. Lajcak was visiting Belgrade when the crisis broke out in the north on Monday, just a day after he arrived from Pristina bringing encouraging messages in an attempt to schedule a high-level meeting between Kurti and Vucic, which was rescheduled earlier this month.
The roads near Jarinje and Brnjak have been blocked since Monday following the decision of the Kosovo government to introduce reciprocity for Serbian license plates.
The barricades are maintained by employees of certain institutions, with the organization and support of Srpska Lista leaders and officials, and backed by President Aleksandar Vucic. Kosovo special police forces have been stationed at the barricades since Monday. So far, no incidents have been registered at the crossings themselves, except for the time tear gas was thrown in Brnjak. However, three incidents were registered outside area surrounding the crossings. The case of the beating of three ethnic Serbs in the forest near Brnjak, who were not involved in the blockades, remains unsolved. One of the injured Serbs testified from the hospital in North Mitrovica that they were beaten by members of Kosovo Special Forces.
On Saturday, two offices in the municipality of Zubin Potok, where the vehicle registration centre is located – and where temporary RKS license plates are issued, burned down. Also, two bombs were thrown at the vehicle registration center in Zvecan on the same night. Fortunately, the bombs did not explode. These incidents additionally raised tensions.
For the second day in the row, the Kosovo media and part of the pro-governmental Serbian media have been publishing extensive reports on Serbian planes flying over Jarinje, as well as the arrival of the Russian ambassador to Jarinje.
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