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Kosovo: Why is violence breaking out between Serbs and ethnic Albanians?

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  • By Tamara Kovacevic
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

A deadly clash took place in Kosovo between ethnic Serb gunmen and police belonging to the Albanian-led government.

A police officer and three armed men were killed in the worst escalation of violence in years.

Where is Kosovo and who lives there?

Kosovo is a small landlocked country in the Balkans in southeastern Europe. It borders Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Many Serbs consider it the cradle of their nation.

How did Kosovo gain its independence?

After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Kosovo, a province of the former country, sought independence.

Serbia responded with a brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

This ended in 1999 with a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia between March and June.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend,

More than 13,000 people died in the 1999 Kosovo war

Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo, but for many Kosovo Albanians and Serbs, the conflict was never resolved.

The NATO-led party Kosovo Force (KFor) is still based in Kosovo, with a current workforce of around 4,500.

In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence.

But Russia and China, who do not do so, have blocked Kosovo’s membership in the UN.

And Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has vowed that Serbia will never recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Neither Kosovo nor Serbia are part of the EU, but:

  • Serbia has been an EU candidate country since 2012
  • Kosovo officially applied for EU membership in December 2022

The process of joining the EU can take decades.

Why did the problems arise now?

The latest clash occurred when ethnic Serb gunmen stormed a village in northern Kosovo, barricading themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery.

Legend,

Kosovar police cordoned off the area around the monastery, the scene of a deadly clash with ethnic Serb armed men.

At the heart of the violence is the Kosovo government’s policy of asserting its authority over all of Kosovo.

Ethnic Serbs oppose it and also want more autonomy.

Following the resignation, local elections were held in April 2023 but were boycotted by the majority of the Serbian population.

Four ethnic Albanian mayors were elected with a turnout of less than 4%. The mayors were installed by the Kosovo Armed Police, provoking violent clashes with local Serbs.

NATO sent 700 additional troops to the country after some of its peacekeepers were injured in the clashes.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend,

More than 90% of Kosovo’s population is Albanian Muslims

Who is responsible for this violence?

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has accused the Serbian government of supporting gunmen involved in the latest clashes.

However, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Kosovo officials bore ultimate responsibility.

The EU had played a mediating role between the two sides, but the negotiations failed.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell criticized Mr Kurti for failing to take steps to give Serbs more autonomy.

Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz criticized Mr Borrell’s statement, saying it did not express support for the police or label the attackers “terrorists”.

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