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News 16 Jan 17

Serbia Accused of Provoking Kosovo Over Train

Serbian opposition politicians and experts have condemned Belgrade’s decision to send a train covered in nationalist slogans and pictures to Kosovo as unnecessarily provocative.

BIRN Team
BIRN
Belgrade, Pristina
Photo: Beta

Following the sharp rise in tensions between Kosovo and Serbia over the train sent to the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, Dragan Sutanovac, leader of Serbia’s opposition Democratic Party, accused Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic of making “warmongering statements” that are “fuelling further conflicts” and bringing Kosovo’s small Serb minority into danger.

“Nikolic … would today send someone else’s children into another pre-lost war,” Sutanovac said on Monday. He was reacting to the Serbian president’s statement that Serbia was even ready to send the Serbian army into Kosovo.

Tensions between Pristina and Belgrade soared on Saturday, after the train, painted in the colours of the Serbian flag and bearing the words “Kosovo is Serbian” in 21 different languages, including Albanian, set off from Belgrade to the northern, Serb-run part of the town of Mitrovica.

Serbian analysts called the dispatch of the train a provocation that had only damaged relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

They accused Serbian politicians of making inflammatory statements to boost their the popularity ahead of presidential elections in the spring - and to improve Belgrade’s hand in EU-mediated talks with Pristina, launched six years ago in order to normalize relations between the two countries.

The Serbian authorities stopped the train in Raska, southern Serbia, just before the Kosovo border, after which Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic dramatically accused the Kosovo government of trying to blow up the railway line and of sending special forces to attack the train.

Kosovo dismissed the charges. Kosovo police in a statement said they “strongly deny that Kosovo citizens or Kosovo Police officials in any way took any action to do with preparing any railway damage”.

Naim Rexha, Deputy General Director of Police Operations, said on Sunday that the Serbian claim “does not stand up. On the contrary, we undertook a pretty complex operation to control 50 kilometres of railway”.

However, Serbian President Nikolic announced after a session of Serbia's Council for National Security on Sunday that Belgrade was ready to send its army to Kosovo “if Serbs are being killed”.

Albanian PM Slams 'Political Games'

Politicians in Albania also criticised Serbia’s decision to send a train decorated in Serbian nationalist iconography to Kosovo.

“These games … are political manoeuvers for political gains. Freedom and independence of Kosovo are done. Serbs from Belgrade can come to Kosovo as tourists but not any longer as [Kosovo]s owners,” Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

Pandeli Majko, who was the Albanian Prime Minister during the war in Kosovo, wrote on Facebook about Nikolic’s statement that “declarations of war do not make you brave”. He added: “War is an act and not a declaration. This needs some wisdom, which Serbs as a nation don't lack.”

 

Isa Mustafa, the Kosovo Prime Minister, criticised Nikolic’s words, saying that Kosovo Serbs had no need of Belgrade’s protection.

“Kosovo Serbs are equal citizens of our republic. They do not need Belgrade’s protection … because they are not in any way in danger, nor will they be,” Mustafa said.

Aleksandar Popov, director of the Novi Sad-based Centre for Regionalism think-tank, told the news agency Beta that the train was part of the Serbian presidential election campaign.

“It has raised tensions and brought us to the verge of conflict. It was an incorrect assessment by those who wanted to score political points,” Popov said.

Bojan Klacar, from the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSID, told the daily Blic on Monday that Serbia should acknowledge that the majority Albanian population in Kosovo unanimously saw the train as a provocation.

“Did a train like this have to transport passengers from point A to point B?” Klacar asked.

Dusan Janjic, a political analyst and the director of the Forum for Multiethnic Relations, told TV N1 that Serbia wanted to improve its hand ahead of continued Belgrade- Pristina talks in Brussels, which are due to start by the end of January.

“It is a rational question to ask – does the person behind this [train] want to stop the Brussels dialogue, or to strengthen the political position of Belgrade before the resumption of negotiations?” Janjic inquired.

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