Pristina, 3 August 2022 (TDI): The General Secretary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, assured the Kosovan authorities that the NATO Mission in Kosovo (KFOR) will maintain peace.

The statement was given amid recent civil unrest between Serbia and Kosovo. The two Balkan states are at odds again after years of great conflict between the two nations.

NATO’s Response

The Secretory-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, on Tuesday stated that the KFOR forces are closely monitoring the situation to maintain peace in the region.

NATO’s peacekeeping forces operate in the Kosovar Republic to maintain security and stability in the region. KFOR is a NATO-led peacekeeping force that entered Kosovo in 1998.

The involvement has gradually decreased from 50,000 to 4000 today since the Kosovan forces are becoming self-sufficient.

The KFOR stated on Sunday that it is closely monitoring the situation and would intervene if Kosovan security is “jeopardized”. The Kosovar government has indicated to apply for EU membership by the end of 2022.

Roots of the Conflict

The root of the conflict stems back to the 1990s with the breakdown of Yugoslavia which brought about a deadly war between the two ethnically divided nations.

The war was fought between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – a Kosovo Albanian rebel group.

Kosovo, which was controlled by Yugoslavia before the war, was dominated by Albanian and Serb minorities. On the other hand, Serbia comprises of majority orthodox Christians.

The war broke out in 1998 when the Kosovo Liberation Army attacked the Yugoslavian authorities. In response, Belgrade cracked down on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and accused them of being KLA sympathizers.

The KLA was accused of war crimes against the Serbs, whereas Belgrade was accused of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, displacing 1.2 to 1.4 million while the remaining were subjected to abuse, rape, and murder.

Following the Serbian repression against the Kosovar Albanians, the western alliance -NATO- intervened on humanitarian grounds, launching an 11-week bombardment.

The war ended on June 29 with the signing of the Kumanovo Treaty. Today, 99 out of 193 countries recognize Kosovo as an independent state. The war ended but Kosovo and Serbia remained in a tense coexistence ever since.

Why did the tensions flare up again?

The Kosovo government implemented regulations under which ethnic Serbs living in Northern Kosovo should have official Kosovo license plates.

The agreement was first signed in 2011, under which, vehicles with numberplates starting with KS may enter Serbia, and those with RKS may enter Kosovo but must exchange it with KS numberplates while entering Serbia.

In September 2020, Avdullah Hoti, a Kosovar politician, who served as the Prime Minister of Kosovo from 3 June 2020 until 22 March 2021 announced that the government of Kosovo will no longer issue Serbian license plates.

Moreover, the Serbian nationals must carry official entry and exit documents issued by the Kosovar government while traveling across the border.

The new regulations were implemented after consulting with NATO member states and EU representatives and were set to operate from August 1, 2022.

Following the new rules, Ethnic Serbs blocked the roads in protest making the Kosovar authorities block two borders crossing Jarinje and Brnjak.

Kosovo’s response to the Incident

Following the protests and road blockage, NATO and the European members urged Pristina to delay the implementation of the new rules by 30 days. On Sunday, the Kosovar authorities agreed to delay the implementations if the protestors remove the blockades.

“The government of Kosovo pledges to delay the implementation of the two decisions of 29 June until 1st September 2022, starting from that moment on Monday 1 August 2022, once all barricades are removed and complete freedom of movement is restored”

The Kosovar authorities blamed Serbia for escalating tensions in the country and “threatening the peace and security of citizens”.

The Prime Minister of the Kosovo Republic, Albin Kurti, in his statement, said that the travel restrictions are “in line with the laws and constitution and equivalent to the measure Serbia has imposed on Kosovo’s citizens.”

Serbia’s Response 

Belgrade has argued that the new rules violate a 2011 agreement on freedom of movement between Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo’s President, Vjosa Osmani, said President Putin could use Kosovo to widen the current conflict in Ukraine and escalate the tensions furthermore among the European states.

Russia’s Response

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova on 1st August issued a statement that urged Pristina and the US for respecting the rights of Serbs in Kosovo.

In her statement, she said, “We call on Pristina and the United States and the European Union backing it to stop provocation and observe the Serbs’ rights in Kosovo.”

Moreover, she added that Kosovo, with the backing of the US, is trying to oust the Serbian population out of the country.

“To begin the use of ungrounded discriminatory ‘rules’ on mandatory change of identification documents and car plates of the local Serbs from August 1 is another step to oust the Serbian population from Kosovo, to squeeze out institutions of the Kosovo Serbs, which defend the rights of ethnic Serbs from the arbitrariness of the Pristina radicals led by ‘Prime Minister’ Albin Kurti,” she stated.

Russia and Serbia are traditional allies. The Serbian government refused to support sanctions on Russia amid the Ukraine war. Serbia has also signed a gas deal with Russia.