Kosovo suspends Serb police commander as ethnic tensions mount

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PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s interior minister said a regional Serb police commander was suspended on Thursday for refusing to support Pristina’s legal drive to make minority Serbs replace old pre-independence car number plates with Kosovo state plates.

“The refusal to implement legitimate decisions of the institutions of the Republic of Kosovo is above all a serious violation of the security and stability of our country,” Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said in a statement.

Tensions between Serbia and its former breakaway province of Kosovo resurged this year after Pristina vowed to enforce a law requiring Serbs to scrap old license plates dating to before the 1998-99 guerrilla uprising that led to independence.

The Kosovo government has said it will continue to issue warnings to Serb drivers until Nov. 21 after which it will start to issue fines and then, if registrations have not been changed by April 21, 2023, confiscate offending vehicles.

Nenad Djuric, the police commander responsible for a northern pocket of Kosovo where some 50,000 ethnic Serbs live, declared that his officers would not enforce the number plate law as it was political and “directed against my ethnic kin”.

Police said two shots were fired at a makeshift police station close to the border with Serbia but no one was injured.

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On Tuesday, Serbia put its army on higher alert saying several drones had entered its airspace from Kosovo. Pristina denied any drones had flown from Kosovo into Serbia and accused its northern neighbor of trying to spread panic.

Several other attempts by Pristina to convince around 10,000 Serb motorists to change their car plates were met with violent resistance in Kosovo’s north, a hotbed of Serb nationalism.

Kosovo’s main backers, the United States and the European Union, have urged Prime Minister Albin Kurti to postpone implementing the car plates ruling for another 10 months but he has refused.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but ethnic Serbs concentrated in the north of Kosovo continue to reject Pristina’s authority and want their area to join Serbia.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich)