Kosovo’s president made a rare visit on Saturday (29 September) to a disputed, mainly ethnic Serb area in the north of the country, angering Belgrade just three weeks after Serbia’s president infuriated Pristina by visiting the same area.
“Let’s work together for a new Kosovo…Kosovo is one, unique, independent and a sovereign country,” President Hashim Thaçi told Kosovo media at Lake Gazivoda, an artificial lake in a mainly ethnic Serb area. Serbia’s President Alexander Vučić had visited the lake on 8 September.
Kosovo’s mainly ethnic Albanian security forces generally stay out of the small, mainly ethnic Serbian pocket of territory in the north, which Kosovo and Serbia dispute.
Day of controversy in Kosovo over border swap discussions. Large demonstrations in Pristina, and tension over Thaci visit in Northern Kosovo. https://t.co/FrAOZRMUOd
— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) September 29, 2018
Thaçi was quoted as saying he had coffee with workers at the lake. Serbia accused Kosovo police of seizing control of the lake and briefly detaining four workers. Kosovo said the police were there to provide security for the visit and nobody was detained.
As thousands gathered in #Pristina to denounce his plans with Vucic about a #Kosovo – #Serbia land swap, President Thaci's isolation grows with his closest ally, Kadri Veseli of PDK calling his show in Gazivoda 'faux patriotism'. PM Haradinaj thanked the protesters. pic.twitter.com/XUks1CFeOK
— Xhemajl Rexha (@xhemajl_rexha) September 29, 2018
The fate of ethnic Serb villages in northern Kosovo is one of the main issues of disagreement between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province of Serbia which declared independence after Serbian forces were driven out by NATO bombing in a war in 1999.
Both sides have said they could agree to swapping Kosovo territory populated by Serbs for Serbian territory populated by Albanians. However, expectations of such a deal dimmed in recent weeks after a meeting between Thaçi and Vučić was abruptly cancelled. Vučić toured the disputed area the next day.
Marko Djurić, head of Serbia’s government office for Kosovo, said Serbia was putting its military as well as police under high alert as a result of Kosovo action in the area.
Serbian President Alexander Vučić (@avucic) who is also the country's supreme commander, ordered to put the entire #Serbian army on high alert. The order was transferred to the Chief of the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces pic.twitter.com/7ctr3VPUFA
— Balkans Agenda (@BalkanBultenENG) September 30, 2018
“Due to an Albanian attack against the north of Kosovo and the arrest of some Serbs who have not committed any crime, I ordered the police director to put all special police units in state of the highest readiness,” Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanović said.
Thaçi’s unexpected visit to the north came hours before ethnic Albanian nationalists held a planned demonstration in the capital Pristina against the president’s willingness to discuss adjusting the border with Serbia.
Moving the frontier “is not a correction but a pain and loss for us”, Albin Kurti, leader of the opposition Vetevendosje party, told a crowd of thousands at the demonstration. “Kosovo cannot be partitioned. We will not negotiate independence.”
Vučić is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday (2 October).