Kosovo brands two Serb groups as terror organizations
PHOTO CAPTION: A member of Kosovo special police forces guards the municipal offices in Zvecan after ethnic Serb protestors tried to prevent an ethnic Albanian mayor from entering the office in Zvecan, Kosovo, May 27, 2023.REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo's government labelled two Serb groups as terrorist organisations on Thursday in a move that could fuel further tensions in country's volatile north which has seen the worst ethnic violence since the 2008 declaration of independence.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti told a session of the cabinet that Civil Protection (Civilna Zastita) and the North Brigade (Severna Brigada) posed a high level of "threat and danger".
He said the two groups had been "recruiting and training members how to use weapons and carry other combat methods in military bases in Serbia in order to carry out attacks on local and international institutions in Kosovo".
Serbs, who form the majority in the north of Kosovo, say that Civilna Zastita was dissolved in 2015 when Serbs agreed to join Kosovo institutions including police and judiciary and participated in the local election for the first time.
It is not clear who the Severna Brigada represents, when it was established or how it operates. Last year graffiti signed by the group appeared on the streets in the north.
There was no immediate reaction from Belgrade. The only Serb minister in Kurti’s cabinet, Nenad Rasic, voted against the decision and asked the cabinet to reconsider.
While the practical impact of the designation was not immediately clear, it could lead to more arrests being made by Kosovo police, further raising the political temperature in the area.
Last November Kosovo Serbs in the north quit all state jobs including government, police, judiciary and other bodies. And in the past weeks Kosovo has seen its worst ethnic tensions since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Violence erupted in late May after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election in which turnout was just 3.5% after Serbs boycotted the vote.
Some 30 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serb protesters late on May. Fifty-two protesters were wounded.
Kosovo's main backers, the United States and European Union have called on Prime Minister Albin Kurti to withdraw the mayors and remove special police used to install them or it will face consequences.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Editing by Alison Williams)