The Latest: Serbia leader seeks to build trust in Kosovo
MITROVICA, Kosovo (AP) — The Latest on the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia (all times local):
Serbia’s president says the Balkan country no longer wants to wage wars in Kosovo and is seeking to build trust and friendship with majority Albanians after an era of conflicts.
But Aleksandar Vucic also issued a veiled threat in a keynote speech during his visit to Kosovo, saying that Serbia will defend minority Serbs in its former province if they come under attack.
In a lengthy address in the Serb-held Kosovo north, Vucic reiterated that an agreement to resolve the long-standing dispute with Kosovo was still far away, but promised to work to achieve it.
Despite expectations, Vucic failed to outline a concrete proposal for a future deal with Kosovo, whose 2008 declaration of independence Serbia doesn’t recognize. The two sides must mend ties first before being considered for entry into the European Union.
Kosovo’s president says that opposition by Kosovo’s citizens to the visit by Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic is understandable, but he urged restraint for the sake of peace and reconciliation after the 1998-99 war.
Hashim Thaci wrote Sunday on his Facebook page that he “fully understands” the reaction of citizens in central Kosovo who put up roadblocks to prevent Vucic’s visit to a Serb-populated village in the area.
Thaci said that the blockade “shows that the pain and war injuries are still fresh.” Thaci added that as Kosovo and Serbia seek to mend ties, “the protests and road-blocking don’t help us.”
He says “we should know to rise beyond ourselves, beyond the injuries and manifold pain. We should do this on behalf of peace and reconciliation.”
Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic says gunshots have been fired at barricades erected by Kosovo Albanians that prevented him from visiting a Serb-populated village.
Vucic said Sunday “I don’t like guns, but we won’t allow anyone to harass Serbs in Kosovo.” He didn’t indicate what kind of response he had in mind, but said that he won’t call for the arming of Kosovo Serbs in retaliation.
Vucic was a fiery ultranationalist during the 1998-99 Kosovo war. Kosovo was a Serbian province when a crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1998-99 led to the deaths of more than 10,000 people.
The conflict ended with NATO intervention, which forced Serbia to pull out of the province. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move that Serbia doesn’t recognize.
NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo say the safety of Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic during a visit to Kosovo isn’t threatened despite roadblocks that prevented his visit to a central Serb-populated village.
KFOR, which is the acronym for the force, said Sunday in a statement that they are working with the Kosovo authorities to remove the blockade around the village of Banje peacefully.
The statement says “nobody is threatening Mr. Vucic and his safety is guaranteed.” It adds that “KFOR is working to do it peacefully, but it is ready to intervene ... if required.”
In Belgrade, Serbia Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said that ensuring that the visit to Banje took place “was important for the credibility of the international community” in Kosovo.
NATO deployed in Kosovo in 1999.
Serbia’s president has addressed Serbs in a central village in Kosovo over the phone after Kosovo Albanians blocked roads and prevented him from getting there.
Dozens of people in the village of Banje lined up Sunday as Aleksandar Vucic told them that “I am very sorry I couldn’t come because the authorities in Pristina didn’t want me to.” Some women could be seen crying as Vucic spoke.
Vucic later criticized NATO-led peacekeepers for not preventing the blockade. Vucic said that Kosovo Albanian authorities were behind the blockade “so they could show, like little children that it has to be the way officials in Pristina want.”
Vucic had planned to visit Banje as part of a two-day visit to Serb-populated areas in Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo Albanians have blocked roads and burned tires on a planned route by Serbia’s president who is visiting Serbs in the former Serbian province.
Aleksandar Vucic planned to visit a Serb-populated village in central Kosovo on Sunday, but the roads leading to the region were blocked by wooden logs, trucks and heavy machinery.
Serbian media said gunfire could also be heard, but those reports couldn’t be independently verified. Vucic wasn’t under attack.
Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic blamed the blockades on former Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers who fought Serb troops in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war for independence.
The conflict ended with a NATO intervention that forced Serbia to pull out of Kosovo. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 which Serbia doesn’t recognize.