Kosovo police have exchanged gunfire with local Serbs

Mitrovica, Kosovo, Dec. 10 (Reuters) – Kosovo Serbs and police exchanged gunfire on Saturday after tensions flared in the restive north.

Earlier in the day, Serbs from Kosovo’s north blocked major roads in the region to protest the arrest of a former member of the Kosovo police who resigned from his post last month along with other ethnic Serbs.

As the crisis escalates in the majority-Serb north, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani announced on Saturday that local elections in the region would be delayed until April 23. Elections were scheduled for December 18, but Serbs said they would boycott the elections.

Police said the blockade halted traffic and forced the closure of two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. Later, they said they opened fire at several locations near a lake on the border with Serbia. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“Police, in self-defense, were forced to respond with gunfire to the criminals, who were chased away and fled in unknown directions,” police said in a statement.

Gunfire was also heard elsewhere in the northern part of the country.

Pristina police said former policeman Dejan Pantic was arrested for attacking election commission offices, police officers and election officials on Tuesday.

Serb mayors in northern Kosovo municipalities, along with local judges and about 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest at the government’s decision to issue Belgrade-issued car license plates in Pristina.

“Serbia has instructed its illegal structures to erect barricades in northern Kosovo. Belgrade will bear full responsibility for any escalation,” Kosovo’s presidential chief of staff, Blerim Vela, said on Twitter.

Earlier, Kosovo police arrested another Serb on suspicion of an armed attack on a police patrol. On Thursday, a policeman was injured in an attack on a patrolling man. Police forces in the area were reinforced by non-Serb officers following mass resignations.

In an emergency press conference, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he would ask NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission to allow Serbia to send troops and police into Kosovo, although he acknowledged there was no chance that permission would be granted.

Following the 1998-1999 war, in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian-majority Kosovo, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the support of the West.

Reporting by Ross Russell and Peter Graff by Fados Bydici in Pristina, Ognene Teofilovski in North Mitrovica, and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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