PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo’s Serb minority on Wednesday demanded that the country’s interior minister and police chief resign over the arrest and expulsion of a senior official from Serbia’s government amid soaring tensions between the bitter foes.
Kosovo police detained Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, in the divided northern town of Mitrovica on Monday because he entered the country without Kosovo’s official approval. He was later expelled under police escort.
Monday’s actions angered Serbia and Kosovo Serbs, who don’t recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. The incident also has fueled fears of renewed instability in the region. The U.S. and the European Union have been trying to help resolve the disputes stemming from the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.
During the incident, Kosovo police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters, and Djuric later said he was roughed up and humiliated by Kosovo police, and appeared at a news conference in Belgrade on Tuesday with bandaged hands. Kosovo Serbs says that more than 30 people were injured in the police intervention during Djuric’s arrest.
The Kosovo Serb party in Kosovo’s government called on Interior Minister Flamur Sefaj and police director Shpend Maxhuni to step down over Monday’s events in Mitrovica. Both men didn’t immediately respond to the demand.
The Kosovo Serb minority also said that if Kosovo doesn’t launch an association of Serb-dominated municipalities within three weeks, they will form their own local administrations throughout Kosovo where Serbs live.
The association was envisaged in a EU-mediated deal in 2013 but was never carried out by Kosovo authorities.
Kosovo’s Cabinet considered the ultimatum as “a wrong approach.
“The association is an obligation that Kosovo has undertaken during the Brussels process and which is to be implemented in the near future,” it said.
On Tuesday, the EU sent its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on an urgent trip to the Serbian capital of Belgrade to call for restraint.
The U.S. has condemned the “events in Mitrovica, which unnecessarily heighten tensions and threaten regional stability.”
The U.S. State Department statement also urged all parties to avoid further escalation and resolve disputes peacefully.
Serbia and Kosovo both hope to become members of the EU but are at different stages in the integration process. They must normalize ties in order to join.
But Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the EU and the U.S. of wanting “to crudely suppress” attempts by Kosovo Serbs to “safeguard their legitimate interests.”
Russia has been trying to expand its influence in the Balkans mainly through its traditional Slavic ally Serbia.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the U.S. State Department’s statement is from Tuesday, not Wednesday.