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Kosovo postpones elections in Serb-dominated north

Kosovo on Saturday postponed a local election scheduled for December 18 in four predominantly ethnic Serb municipalities, in a bid to defuse recent tensions that have also further soured relations with neighboring Serbia.

President Vjosa Osmani met with political leaders in Kosovo and decided to hold the vote in the northern municipalities on April 23 next year.

Elections in northern Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and Leposavic were due to take place after ethnic Serb representatives resigned from office in November in protest at the Kosovo government’s decision to ban vehicle registration plates issued by Serbia.

Serbian lawmakers, prosecutors and police have also abandoned local government posts.

Tension in the north was high ahead of the scheduled vote. This week, unidentified gunmen shot and injured a Kosovo law enforcement officer, some electoral centers were damaged and gunshots were heard in these municipalities.

Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Zvecla said on Saturday that after the arrest of a former Serbian policeman accused of attacking election centers and officials, some roads in the north were blocked by “groups extremists”.

The Kosovo police presence has recently been reinforced in these areas and the European Union Rule of Law Mission, or EULEX, has also been present with its police.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. But Belgrade, backed by Russia and China, refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Serbia’s prime minister said on Friday that the country’s leaders were about to demand the deployment of their security troops to Kosovo, saying the lives of the Serbian minority there were at risk. The return of troops from Belgrade to the former Serbian province could significantly increase tensions in the Balkans.

Serbian officials say a United Nations resolution that officially ended Belgrade’s bloody crackdown on the majority of Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999 allows some 1,000 Serbian troops to return to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to end the war and drive its troops out of Kosovo.

NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo since the war are expected to give the green light to Serb troops to move there, which is highly unlikely as it would mean de facto handing over the security of the Serb-populated northern areas of Kosovo to the Serbian forces.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s office said such a move by Serbia would be “an act of aggression” and an indication of “Serbia’s tendencies to destabilize the region”.

The European Union has warned Serbia and Kosovo to resolve their dispute and normalize relations to be eligible to join the bloc.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini




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