|Kosovo Serbs block a road in the village of Rudare near Zvecan [Reuters]
Serbia has urged for a dialogue to find a peaceful solution for the unrest in mostly ethnic Serb northern Kosovo amid warnings that tensions could erupt into fresh conflict.
At the end of an extraordinary parliamentary session on Sunday, attended by President Boris Tadic, legislators passed a declaration accusing authorities in Pristina of having “tried through force to change a reality on the ground”.
The session was called after Kosovo slapped a trade embargo on Serbia and ordered police to seize two border crossings, sparking an angry response in the Serb-dominated north.
Serbia’s top negotiator with Kosovo, Borko Stefanovic, described the situation in the north as “dramatic, almost at a state of emergency… or even the brink of a conflict”.
President Tadic accused the Kosovo authorities of trying “in long term to change ethnic structure once they change reality in northern Kosovo,” currently predominantly populated by ethnic Serbs.
“Serbia will oppose that policy,” Tadic told the parliament after the 10-hour debate.
Both Stefanovic and Tadic called for a return to the previous situation “in order to give negotiations a chance”.
At the end of a 10-hour debate, the parliament asked the Serbian government to “defend the interest of the republic of Serbia and people in Kosovo… as a priority until a compromise solution is found” to solve the crisis.
The solution should be found “through a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina,” according to the declaration, passed by a majority of 181 deputies in the 250-seat strong parliament.
Ban on imports
Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic also said dialogue was Serbia’s “key means in the fight for Kosovo as we (the authorities) are determined not to make a single move that would… jeopardise the stability of the region.”
His words were echoed by Tadic who said that “Serbia will not wage a war.”
“We are in the region of former Yugoslavia where the wars (in 1990s) have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and I join the majority in the Western Balkans that believes peace has no alternative,” Tadic said.
The crisis erupted on Monday after Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci’s ethnic Albanian government ordered police to seize control of two border crossings in northern Kosovo to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia.
According to Pristina, the ban imposed two weeks ago was not respected by ethnic Serb members of Kosovo’s border police.
The move provoked an angry response, with one Kosovar police officer killed and four others hurt in clashes with Serbs.
Belgrade and Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority have never recognised the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
Belgrade banned imports from Kosovo immediately after the declaration and Pristina’s decision to retaliate last week caught many by surprise.
More than 90 per cent of Kosovo’s imported food comes from Serbia, one of its main suppliers with goods totalling $370 million a year.