Three police officers in Kosovo were injured during the arrest of an alleged organizer of Serb protests in the country’s north, including one in which 30 NATO-led peacekeepers were injured, the country’s interior minister said Tuesday.
Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said one of the heads of Civil Protection, an organization operating in Serb-majority areas of northern Kosovo, was arrested in the city of Mitrovica. The Kosovar government has accused the group of engaging in criminal activity which “for years has terrorized our citizens.”
The minister identified the person arrested as Milun Milenkovic-Llune. After he was taken into custody, a small group of Serbs gathered in Mitrovica hurled objects at police, according to Kosovar media.
Petar Petkovic, director of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, denounced the arrest of “a prominent fighter for Serbian national interests and Serb’s rights” while “surrounded by eight Kosovo police armored vehicles.”
In May, ethnic Serbs clashed with Kosovo police and then members of the international Kosovo Force peacekeeping missions in northern Kosovo’s city of Zvecan. Thirty soldiers and over 50 Serbs were injured.
NATO, which has maintained a peacekeeping force in Kosovo since a war between Serbia and Kosovar separatists ended in 1999, sent in an additional 700 troops after the May incident.
The clashes grew out of an earlier confrontation after ethnic Albanian candidates who were declared the winners of local elections in northern Kosovo entered municipal buildings to take office and were blocked by Serbs. Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the votes.
The unrest has provoked fears of a renewal of the region’s bloody conflicts.
The European Union has asked Kosovo to withdraw its special police forces from northern Kosovo, where most of the Balkan nation’s ethnic Serb minority lives, and to repeat the municipal elections there.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti sent a letter Tuesday to the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, saying that his government would reduce the number of the special police forces and hold fresh elections in four municipalities once the alleged Serb-led criminal groups leave the country or were prosecuted.
Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. The violence near their shared border has stirred fear of a renewal of the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, which claimed more than 10,000 lives and resulted in the KFOR peacekeeping mission.
Kosovo and Serbia reached an EU-facilitated agreement this year on normalizing relations. An 11-point implementation plan remains the focus of talks mediated by envoys from Washington and Brussels.
Kurti said he would be ready to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic this week to continue the dialogue.