PRISTINA – Kosovo’s prime minister on Thursday complained of bias against his country from the United States and the European Union and tolerance of what he called Serbia’s authoritarian regime.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti said his Cabinet took a different stance. “We insist that behaving well with an autocrat doesn’t make him behave better. On the contrary,” he said.
The U.S. and EU envoys for the Kosovo-Serbia talks — Gabriel Escobar and Miroslav Lajcak respectively — “come to us with demands, with requests of the other side,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ethnic Serbs recently clashed with Kosovo police and then the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force, leaving 30 soldiers and over 50 Serbs injured and provoking fears of a renewal of the region’s bloody conflicts.
Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, outgoing head of the EU Rule of Law Mission, known as EULEX, said that during last week’s violent confrontation “there were very serious injuries sustained by several KFOR soldiers.”
“There already was violence of the worst kind of thing. Everyone … says we’re lucky that there were no casualties.”
After the soldiers were injured last week, NATO said it would send an additional 700 troops to northern Kosovo.
Wigemark said the time would come when EULEX civilian police, who no longer have executive powers but only “monitoring and mentoring Kosovo police,” wouldn’t be needed in Kosovo.
“But the conditions are not quite there yet,” he said.
The European diplomat did not rule out that NATO could decide to deploy “thousands of military troops” in Kosovo.
“If the situation is becoming increasingly unstable, if it starts to escalate again, of course, that is an option.”
The clashes grew out of an earlier confrontation after ethnic Albanian candidates who were declared the winners of local elections in northern Kosovo entered municipal buildings to take office and were blocked by Serbs. Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the votes.
Brussels has asked Kosovo to withdraw its special police forces from northern Kosovo, where most of the ethnic Serb minority lives, and to hold fresh elections.
In February and March, Kosovo and Serbia reached a EU-facilitated deal on normalizing relations, with an 11-point plan for implementation. The process remains the focus of the talks mediated by the envoys from Washington and Brussels.
Kurti insisted the special police forces could not be “downsized” until criminal Serb gangs either left the country or were arrested. He said there was peace in Kosovo if there were no “orders for violence from Belgrade.”
Western powers should not indulge Belgrade, the root problem of the violence in the Western Balkans, Kurti said.
Kurti complained that even for the April snap election in the four northern municipalities with a Serb majority population, “international mediators, European facilitators failed us."
He said they urged Kosovo to make electoral amendments but did not put pressure on the ethnic Serbs’ only political party to take part in the vote.
He said he would need the international community’s help to foster political pluralism in the ethnic Serb minority “for a fair competition, for a democratic race for new mayors.”
“We cannot afford another process where Serbian candidates boycott it a couple of days before the elections start because that's what Belgrade orders,” he said.
Wigemark, who has also served in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said it was vital that “these kinds of incidents are not allowed to flare up, to spill over to some sort of armed conflict.”
“The ongoing dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, that is the venue to sort out most of the outstanding questions," he said.
Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The violence near their shared border has stirred fear of a renewal of a 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives and resulted in the KFOR peacekeeping mission.