BELGRADE—At the Monday press conference, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic delivered a detailed account of the series of events leading to violent clashes in Kosovo. Vucic specifically attributed the responsibility for inciting conflict between Serbs and KFOR on the ground to Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti , specifically in relation to the incidents that unfolded on the preceding Friday.
In his address, Vucic disclosed that he had held discussions with American and German officials before the press conference, and proceeded to present a comprehensive chronology of the incidents.
- On Monday morning, at 7 am local time, Serbian citizens in northern Kosovo gathered outside the municipal buildings of Zvecan, Zubin Potok, and Leposavic to express their dissatisfaction with the forced entry and takeover of municipal buildings orchestrated by Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Friday.
- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed his concerns during a press conference, emphasizing that the presence of KFOR soldiers failed to adequately protect the Serbian population from violence. Vucic’s remarks came in response to the unilateral use of force by Albin Kurti, resulting in the seizure of control over the municipalities on Friday. The condemnations of these acts of violence were swift and resolute, with Secretary Blinken, the European Union, and NATO Secretary General all strongly denouncing Kosovo government and PM Albin Kurti.
- Upon their arrival at the municipalities on Monday morning, Serbs encountered KFOR units positioned behind barbed wire, as stated by President Vucic. According to the Serbian President, the mayors of Zubin Potok and Zvecan were absent from the buildings as they were engaged in a meeting with the US Ambassador in Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier.
- The mayor of Leposavic managed to enter the municipal building, which had been encircled by KFOR and barbed wire since 5:30 am. The President of Serbia asserted that these barbed wire measures failed to be implemented on Friday to preempt Kurti’s unilateral decision to employ police force and seize control of the municipalities. According to Vucic, the situation unfolded in a different manner. He said that KFOR allowed the mayors to enter the building and provided them with protection, which contradicted the earlier statements and promises made regarding the prioritizing the safety of the Serbs.
- According to sources present at the scene, the mayor of Leposavic remained inside the building at the time of the President’s national address.
- The majority of Serbs in northern Kosovo, because of its proximity to Kosovka Mitrovica, congregated in front of the Zvecan municipality, where, in the morning, as per the President’s account, KFOR permitted some workers and women to approach the building’s entrance. However, the Kosovo police deployed tear gas to disperse them.
The build up
- Two vehicles belonging to the Kosovo special police force ROSU were encircled by Serbs, who placed a flag on them and inscribed four S letters (a symbol of Serbian unity that roughly translates to “Only unity saves the Serbs”). The Serbian President, during a press conference, stated that these Serbs did not resort to any acts of violence.
- Following multiple rounds of negotiations between KFOR representatives and members of the “Serbian List” including Igor Simic, Goran Rakic, and Dragisa Milovic, the Serbs put forth their demands. Firstly, they proposed that KFOR replace ROSU. Secondly, they requested the mayors to leave the municipality buildings while KFOR remains present.
- The regional commander of KFOR for the Eastern region displayed comprehension and vowed to transmit the message to the appropriate authorities. During the ongoing negotiations, prompted by the refusal of Kurti’s special forces to accept concessions, KFOR imposed a condition on the agreement. They asked the Serbs to authorize the advancement of two ROSU vehicles closer to the municipalities behind the KFOR cordon. The President clarified that this request was made due to the Serbs being informed about the apprehension of the police officers, despite the fact that Serbs were already positioned within the double ring of both ROSU and KFOR.
- After the Serbs rejected the condition, KFOR intervened, as stated by the Serbian President. In response, the Serbs assumed a seated position on the ground, raising their hands in the air, which was recorded in a video that was televised nationally.
- At approximately 16:40 local time, members of the Hungarian KFOR contingent engaged in clashes with the Serbs. They resorted to physical aggression, striking and kicking them. Goran Rakic and Igor Simic found themselves in the midst of the altercation, while Dragisa Milovic sustained injuries and is currently hospitalized in Kosovska Mitrovica. Shock bombs and tear gas, according to Vucic, were deployed against the crowd, prompting the individuals to rise and defend themselves. Some individuals began to leave in an attempt to disengage from the confrontations and some going into fight.
- While the Serbs were retreating, a member of ROSU, armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, knelt on the ground and fired several shots in their direction. Dragisa Galjak was hit by gunfire, sustaining injuries to his back, pelvis, and hand from two bullets. The President verified that in response, the Serbs retaliated by throwing stones and employing other means of resistance.
- After the incident, a total of 52 injured Serbs sought medical treatment at the Clinical Center in Kosovska Mitrovica. Among them, three individuals sustained severe injuries. The President stated that the actual number of injured individuals is even higher.
- Igor Simic had previously issued a warning that Kurti’s special forces had brought in heavy weaponry, which included several sniper rifles positioned near schools within Serbian facilities. Throughout the day, Vucic said, the Serbs engaged in non-violent forms of resistance, such as singing songs and performing Serbian kolo dances. Additionally, they even extended gestures of goodwill by offering coffee and chocolate to KFOR members, thereby demonstrating their strong aversion to resorting to violence.
- A total of 41 members of the KFOR sustained injuries, with the Hungarian and Italian contingents being the most affected, as confirmed by President Vucic. Among the injured, three individuals sustained more severe wounds during the incidents.
Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, attributed today’s clashes to Prime Minister Albin Kurti as the modus operandi, emphasizing that the international community is well aware of this fact. Vucic expressed his frustration, stating that he had repeatedly warned about Kurti’s role in the situation, but his concerns were ignored by the international community.
As tensions escalate in Kosovo, the Biden administration has not yet released an official statement regarding the future course of action in the region.
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