Kosovo PM presents plan to defuse tensions in Serb-majority area
PHOTO CAPTION: Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks to the media, in Ohrid, North Macedonia March 18, 2023.REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo
PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo's prime minister on Tuesday presented a plan to defuse tensions in its Serb-majority north that would include fresh local elections and cuts in special police, bowing to pressure from key Western supporters of its independence.
Kosovo police meanwhile said they arrested a Serb identified by Pristina as an organiser of attacks on NATO peacekeepers who deployed in the north last month amid violent Serb unrest over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in their area.
During the operation to arrest Milun Milenkovic, three Kosovo Albanian policemen were slightly injured, Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said on his Facebook page.
Some 30 peacekeepers and 52 Serbs were injured in the clashes late last month after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election in which turnout was just 3.5% after Serbs who form a majority in the region boycotted the vote.
The United States and European Union have called on Prime Minister Albin Kurti to withdraw the mayors, remove special police used to install them and uphold a 2013 deal for an association of autonomous Serb municipalities in the region.
Kurti said that "violent (Serb) groups have been withdrawn from Kosovo territory (and therefore) the presence of Kosovo police troops in three municipal buildings will be downsized".
“The government of the Republic of Kosovo will coordinate with all the actors and announce early elections in four municipalities in the north," Kurti told a press conference after meeting ambassadors of the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain, known as the Quint group.
He said he had presented his plan to EU and U.S. envoys and called for a follow-up meeting between Serbian and Kosovo officials in the Serbian capital Belgrade.
Kurti said nothing about setting up the association of Serb municipalities which would ensure greater autonomy for the Serb majority area. He has been loath to implement the accord, citing fears that it would spur the region to seek to rejoin Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic urged Kosovo last week to grant more autonomy to Serbs before organising a new vote.
Kosovo declared internationally recognised independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after an uprising by the 90% ethnic Albanian majority against repressive Serbian rule. NATO bombing drove out Serbian security forces but Belgrade continues to regard Kosovo only as its southern province.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Ivana Sekularac and Mark Heinrich)