Air raid sirens have rung out in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo after special police fired stun grenades in a raid to detain a senior Serbian official, raising fresh tensions in the region.
Marko Đurić, head of Belgrade’s office for Kosovo and Metohija, was seized in the town of North Mitrovica by balaclava-clad and rifle-wielding members of Pristina’s ROSU police, who fired what appeared to be stun grenades to clear a crowd of angry Serb civilians. Inside the building, people ducked for cover as the police entered the hall where Đurić was speaking and led him away.
Đurić was taken to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, in the back of a police van having entered the disputed region without permission. He was brought in front of a judge and then escorted from the territory.
The subsequent sirens appeared to have been a move to rally the Serb population, and diplomatic compounds in the town were put on lockdown.
Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, said that Đurić had entered Kosovo illegally. Foreign minister Behgjet Pacolli had earlier warned that Đurić would be arrested if he crossed into Kosovo as planned.
“The Kosovo police has acted in accordance with its competences, with professionalism and in defence of the law and order in Kosovo,” Thaçi said in a statement calling for calm.
But a Serbian government source said that there was no reason to refuse Đurić entrance to Kosovo, and that he was in North Mitrovica to discuss Serbia’s “internal dialogue” on Kosovo’s future.
“It’s just Pristina authorities exercising power,” the source told the Guardian. “The stupid thing is, EU officials knew what Pristina was preparing and they didn’t do anything to stop them.”
While Thaçi said that dialogue and reconciliation should not be affected, the move may further raise tensions in the region and challenges EU-brokered efforts to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but Belgrade regards Kosovo as an inalienable part of its territory. The north of Kosovo remains dominated by ethnic Serbs who largely reject independence, and Belgrade retains considerable influence.
Diplomats are usually keen to keep armed special police out of the north of Kosovo to avoid potential clashes after a Kosovo police officer was shot dead in 2011.
“There are clear procedures governing the entry of Serbian ministers into Kosovo,” said a diplomat familiar with the situation. “Rightly or wrongly, Marko Đurić’s most recent request was rejected; a rejection he chose to ignore. Serious questions will be asked about the proportionality of the police action.
“It is imperative that wise heads prevail in the coming days to calm the situation in Kosovo’s north. It is a timely reminder of the fragility of the security situation in Kosovo and the region.”
On Twitter, Kosovo’s deputy prime minister Enver Hoxhaj said that Đurić’s presence in Kosovo was in breach of EU agreements between the two sides.