Tensions in northern Kosovo flared into violence last week after authorities installed ethnic Albanian mayors in municipal offices
The United States and the European Union on Wednesday told Kosovo to back down in a tense standoff with Serbs, in the north of the country, or face “consequences” from its Western allies.
Dozens of NATO peacekeeping soldiers and Serb protestors were wounded in northern Kosovo last week, after tensions flared into violence after authorities installed ethnic Albanian mayors in municipal offices. The mayors were elected on a turnout of just 3.5 percent, after Serbs, who form a majority in the region, boycotted local polls.
The warnings came as U.S. and EU envoys concluded visits to Kosovo and Serbia to calm the flared tensions. The American envoy to the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar said Kosovo must give greater autonomy to the Serb-majority municipalities, if it wants to move closer to joining NATO and the European bloc.
“The actions taken or not taken could have some consequences that will affect parts of the relationship (between Kosovo and the United States), I don’t want to get there,” Escobar told Kosovo media.
He and the EU’s Miroslav Lajcak did not elaborate on what other consequences Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s ethnic Albanian-dominated government might face, if it did not accede to their demands.
“I don’t think that these things are resolved with pressure and by mentioning consequences and even sanctions,” Kurti told reporters, “we have challenges with EU and U.S. envoys but our bilateral relations with the EU and U.S. are excellent.”
Lajcak said the envoys presented proposals to Kurti to de-escalate the situation in northern Kosovo, adding they had a “long, honest, difficult discussion.”
NATO has around 4,000 troops in Kosovo, and deployed an extra 700 as a response to the flare-up in violence.