One day after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had given his full support to ethnic Serbs at the barricades in North Kosovo—and after Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that barricades would be forcibly dismantled by Kosovo police forces if not by KFOR—local Serbs have agreed to remove the barricades themselves, following reported pressure from the EU and the United States.
The move in fact comes as an only minor surprise, as Serbia Monthly noted yesterday (Dec. 28) that intense behind-the-scenes meetings were ongoing, but the catalyst to the diminishing tensions appears to have been the transfer of ethnic Serb and former Kosovo police officer Dejan Pantic from jail to house arrest by a local prosecutor and judge.
Pantic, who was held for some 10 days with his whereabouts and charges unknown, will now face a court trial on terrorism charges.
With regard to the barricades, Vucic noted that Serbs had no faith in Kosovo institutions, nor trust in the current process—all the while alluding to a commitment to diplomacy but also a promise to protect ethnic Serbs should perceived harassment in Kosovo continue.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti was far more blunt, expressing outrage that Pantic had been allowed to move to house arrest in light of such “serious” charges.
That said, the removal of barricades—manned for 19 days—will come as a relief to both the US and the EU, who are both eager to avoid a second conflict zone in Europe. With the war in Ukraine having impacted economies and stretched both relief and military asset there have also been worries of Russian meddling—rumors echoed in the press but proffered by Kurti, who alluded to the supposed presence of Wagner mercenaries at the barricades on Wednesday.
There has been no confirmed sighting of such mercenaries in Kosovo. Neither has there been any sign of confirmed information that the infamous Wagner Group, active in Kosovo and accused of atrocities in Africa and the Middle East, has had a presence there.
That said, barricade removal may not happen overnight, as Vucic, quoted by Euronews, called the planned removal a “long process that will take a while.”
Contingent on this process appears to be a promise by the US and EU that persons at the barricades will not be prosecuted by the Kosovo government.
There is no doubt that this will be watched closely by the Serbian side, which has, since the arrest of Pantic, put troops on the border at the “highest state of readiness” and petitioned KFOR to allow 1,000 Serb military personnel into North Kosovo to protect local Serbs.
A photo of a “barricade” in North Kosovo was provided courtesy of the Voice of America, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.