The breakaway province’s authorities swore in unelected ethnic Albanians to run North Mitrovica.
Ethnic Albanian officials loyal to Pristina have taken over the largest Serb municipality in the north of Kosovo. The new municipal council of North Mitrovica was sworn in on Wednesday under heavily armed police guard, to replace Serb officials who resigned in protest last month. Serbia said the move amounts to ethnic cleansing.
As sixteen new members were sworn in, Serbian flags were removed from the council chambers, RT Balkans reported. Several armored vehicles of NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping force patrolled outside the building.
While the Serb List won over 90% of the local votes in October 2021, all of its members resigned last month, in protest over Pristina’s push to outlaw Serbian license plates. While the Kosovo government eventually abandoned that plan, under pressure from the EU and the US, they used the resignations to replace the ethnic Serbs with their own officials.
The move came on the same day as the government in Pristina ceremoniously applied for EU membership, with president Vjosa Osmani saying Kosovo deserved to join the bloc as “a country of peace and respect for human rights.”
Petar Petkovic, the Serbian government commissioner for Kosovo, called the new council “a violation of all agreements, including Pristina’s own laws.”
No one elected or even voted for the new council members, Petkovic noted, accusing prime minister Albin Kurti of deliberately calling off new elections so his government could usurp the posts held by ethnic Serb officials.
Kurti seeks to “take away the last remaining rights of the Serbs” in order to create “a mono-ethnic Kosovo-Metohija, where there are no Serbs left,” Petkovic told reporters.
Last week, Pristina sent hundreds of heavily armed police into North Mitrovica in what they called “necessary, reasonable and lawful measures to enforce the law and decisions of Kosovo state bodies.” Serbia complained about a campaign of abuses and said it would ask for a return of its own police to the breakaway province, as authorized by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
The US is “categorically” opposed to that idea, said the State Department envoy Gabriel Escobar, but urged the ethnic Albanians to carry out their treaty obligations and establish the association of Serb municipalities. Pristina has refused to do so.
NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999, after bombing Serbia. The ethnic Albanian provisional government declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has not recognized it, nor have five EU member states, Russia, and China.