Kosovo's Kurti says mayors must work in offices, will not back down

  • World
  • Thursday, 01 Jun 2023

FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti poses for a picture during an interview with Reuters at his office in Pristina, Kosovo August 10, 2022. REUTERS/Fedja Grulovic

MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Thursday he will not back down from a decision to install ethnic Albanian mayors in Serb majority areas, a move which triggered violence, prompting NATO to send more troops to the region.

"Mayors should go and work in their offices," Kurti told Kosovo Albanian media. "We need to have normality ...What is the meaning of having public buildings for state officials if they are not used?"

Unrest in Kosovo's north has intensified since ethnic Albanian mayors took office in the region's Serb-majority area, a move that led the U.S. and its allies to rebuke Pristina. The majority Serb population had boycotted the April election, allowing ethnic Albanians to win the poll.

In violence on Monday, 30 peacekeepers and 52 Serbs who protested against the installation of ethnic-Albanian mayors were injured.

The violence prompted NATO to announce it would send additional troops on top of 700 already on their way to the Balkan country to boost its 4,000 strong mission.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Oslo called on Kosovo and Serbia "to take steps to de-escalate" tension in the north Kosovo region which borders Serbia.

"We support the process of Euro-Atlantic integration for Kosovo and for Serbia, but the current escalation hinders, rather than helps the efforts to move in that direction."

Some 50,000 Serbs who live in the north of the country do not recognise Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and see Belgrade as its capital.

Serbs refuse to accept April's election results and say low turnout of 3.5% makes them illegitimate.

"They (the mayors) have to leave this area because they are not representing anything," deputy head of the Serb List, the biggest Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party, Igor Simic told Reuters on Wednesday.

Lulzim Hetemi, an ethnic Albanian mayor in Leposavic, has been in his office since early Monday with NATO peacekeepers guarding the town hall behind razor blade wire. His counterparts from Zvecan and Zubin Potok have been working remotely from their home villages.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Simon Lewis; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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