North Kosovo Meltdown
Marko Prelec, Crisis Group Balkans Project
| 6 Sep 2011
The long-simmering dispute over the Serb-held North of Kosovo has entered a dangerous phase. Serbia and Kosovo are raising tensions in the field despite making technical agreements at the negotiation table. On 2 September the EU brokered an agreement on customs stamps and cadastral records. Observers could conclude that the crisis started on 25 July at the border is now over. It is not. An important first step, the agreement says nothing about who will actually control the two disputed border posts and the customs revenue they generate. The real dispute is about the status of north Kosovo. Belgrade still believes it can partition Kosovo, keeping the Serb-inhabited north. Pristina is intent on asserting its practical sovereignty over its whole territory. Until the two work out a compromise the situation risks quick deterioration.
There are daily violent incidents. Over the weekend, there was an explosion in the town of Zubin Potok, accompanied by gunfire. Serbs are, reportedly, organizing high school instruction for students at a massive roadblock outside the divided town of Mitrovica. The conflict has already taken one life; if Pristina and Belgrade do not back down, it can take many more, and push Kosovo-Serbia relations into a deep freeze for years or decades. This is the highest risk of violence and death the western Balkans have faced since 2008 Crisis Group believes, as do many sober diplomats and international observers in the region. Escalation suits many interests.
Kosovo police special forces were the first to shatter the fragile status quo when on 25 July they tried to take control of the two border posts in the north; after briefly holding one, they were forced to retreat and then ambushed with one fatality and several wounded. KFOR now controls the official border crossings, which are closed to commercial traffic, and is starting to close the unofficial routes northerners use to bring in goods and smuggle. No Kosovo customs officials are present, and only one gate has Kosovo border police so the situation remains unstable.
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North Kosovo Meltdown |
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