The Serbs of northern Kosovo and Metohija began dismantling barricades on Thursday following the release of Serb Police Officer Dejan Pantić to house arrest. Pantić’s arrest by the authorities in Prishtina provoked the current crisis and led to the erection of barricades as a form of peaceful protest by Serbs in the region. Prishtina had demanded that NATO-led peacekeepers remove the barricades and, in a threat to escalate the situation, declared its own forces would do it otherwise. In response, Serbia raised the combat readiness of its troops on the border with the autonomous province to the highest level, promising to protect the local Serbian population.
The barricade at the Merdare checkpoint at the entrance to Kosovo and Metohija has been dismantled, and work is underway to remove barricades in other key districts of the province. After the meeting with Serbian leaders in Kosovo and Metohija in Raska on Thursday night, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said that the remaining barricades would be dismantled in 24 to 48 hours.
Serbian Officials Rebuke Germany for Its Role in the Crisis
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić harshly criticized Germany’s role in the Kosovo crisis. Dačić told B92 TV that the entire international community, with the exception of Germany, sees that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti is the main cause of the problems in northern Kosovo: “Not counting Germany, I think everything is clear to everyone else.” Dačić added that any comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina would be difficult to achieve as long as Kurti remains Prime Minister in the autonomous province. The comments by the Serbian Foreign Minister followed similar remarks by the Serbian President, previously reported by CD Media. Vučić accused Berlin of trying to assert its control over the Balkans.
The Situation on the Ground Remains Tense
Despite the removal of the barriers, the situation on the ground remains tense. A reporter for N1 said that local people have voiced fear about alleged lists of Serbs whom authorities in Pristina want to arrest. Serbs in the region are divided over the removal of the barricades, with some demanding that they remain in place until the last of the Albanian Kosovo special police units withdraw from the area.
Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Caroline Ziadeh, welcomed the measures to de-escalate tensions in northern Kosovo, including the removal of the barricades. In an official press release, UNMIK stated, “She acknowledges the painstaking efforts of all parties, including international partners, to ensure the safety of the people of Kosovo across all communities.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić wrote on his official Instagram account, “For me Kosovo and Metohija is Serbia, and it will never be anything else…. I fight and will fight for our brothers and sisters. Every day of peace we buy is for our life and for a chance for a brighter future. I see no alternative to that.”