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News 26 Oct 11

North Kosovo Leader Demands Right to Join Serbia

A Serb leader in North Kosovo says the 50,000 Serbs living there want to merge with Serbia, and will not live in an independent Kosovo, whatever the EU and NATO say.

Fatmir Aliu
Mitrovica

The head of the Serbian National Council, Nebojsa Jovic, says that 50,000 Kosovo Serbs living in the area north of the Ibar river want the territory to become part of Serbia and are ready to die for the cause.

Beside one of the 18 barricades erected by Serbs north of the town of Mitrovica, Jovic told Balkan Insight that the Albanian-led government in Pristina, NATO's peacekeeping mission, KFOR, and the EU rule of law mission EULEX, needed to understand that Serbs will never accept Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008.

“They cannot force us to be part of the independent Kosovo. This will never happen," he said.

"There are two options. The first is that we are allowed to live inside Serbia, separated from independent Kosovo. The second is that someone expells us from here, which believe me, is hard to achieve. Deporting 50,000 people looks like a big risk,” Jovic added.

Northern Kosovo, which borders Serbia, has long been a tense area. Its population, which is almost entirely Serbian, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and does not trust KFOR and EULEX.

While officially a part of Kosovo, the four majority-Serb municipalities in the north are under the de-facto control of Serbia, which finances all the main institutions.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, recently urged Belgrade to improve its relations with Pristina in order to begin EU accession talks, noting that the area north of the Ibar river remained part of Kosovo.

The European Commission, meanwhile, recently urged the government in Pristina to come up with a comprehensive agenda about the north, and reach out to Serbs living there.

Jovic said that Stefan Fule "means absolutely nothing compared with Resolution 1244. This resolution is stronger than Stefan Fule, and it is more powerful than the German Chancellor [Angela Merkel] and other statesmen."

He was referring to the Security Council resolution, adopted in 1999, which placed Kosovo under the authority of the United Nations.

"What's happening in the north is a private war of [Kosovo Prime Minister] Hashim Thaci," he added. "It’s not a war between the Albanian and Serbian nation."

The head of the Serbian National Council said multi-ethnic institutions could not function in Kosovo.

“No one can force us love each other," he said. "The Albanians don't love us and I don’t like them, but don’t hate them either.

"It’s a fact that in the past we [Serbs] tried through violence and war to achieve our goals, but we failed. That was the case pre-1999 and afterwards. Now is the time to talk to each other. Dialogue and an agreement should be based upon reality [on the ground] and on the readiness of both sides to compromise,” Jovic said.

Recently, tensions have flared over the issue of who controls Kosovo-Serbia checkpoints. From Kosovo's independence in 2008 until mid-July, the two main northern border gates were controlled exclusively by EULEX.

But on 25 July the Kosovo government deployed special police to these two checkpoints to enforce a recent trade ban on goods entering the country from Serbia.

Kosovo Serbs then erected barricades on various roads, preventing access to the Jarinje and Brnjak border gates. KFOR has since requested the removal of the barricades.

But Jovic says Serbs will keep the barricades and are ready to protect them with their lives.

“If the barricades are taken down, EULEX and KFOR will have to pass through us," he said. "We don’t want to threaten anyone. But the moment they march on the barricades, even if they use tanks, they will have to run over us first," he said.

"If we find ourselves in a life threatening situation, then of course we will have to defend ourselves with other means, but I hope this will never happen,” he added.

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