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Kosovo postpones local elections in ethnic Serb-dominated north

The election was due to representatives of ethnic Serbs resigning to protest the ban on Serbian-issued vehicle registration plates.

Kosovo postponed local elections scheduled for next week in four municipalities with a predominantly ethnic Serb population, in an effort to defuse recent tensions there that have also caused relations with neighboring Serbia to further deteriorate.

Saturday’s announcement came after Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani met her country’s political leaders and decided to hold the vote in northern municipalities on April 23 next year.

On the same day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he would formally request NATO’s permission to deploy Serb troops in northern Kosovo, though he admitted it was unlikely he would be granted.

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Such a move could dramatically increase tensions in the region.

Elections in North Mitrovica, Zubin Potok, Zvecan and Leposavic were scheduled for December 18 after ethnic Serb representatives resigned from their posts in November to protest the Kosovo government’s decision to ban vehicle license plates. issued by Serbia. Serbian legislators, prosecutors and police officers also left their posts in the local government.

Tension in the north has been high ahead of the scheduled vote. This week, unknown gunmen shot and wounded a Kosovo law enforcement officer. Some polling stations were also damaged, while shots were heard in the four municipalities.

Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Zvecla said on Saturday that following the arrest of a former Serbian policeman accused of attacking polling stations and officials, some roads in the north have been blocked by “extremist groups.”

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The Kosovo police presence has recently increased in those areas and the European Union’s rule of law mission, or EULEX, has been present with its police officers. also.

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Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008. But Belgrade, with the support of Russia and China, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Vucic said on Saturday that his government would formally ask the commander of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo for permission to deploy Serb troops to the north, but added that he “has no illusions that this will be accepted.”

The request had been announced on Friday by Ana Brnabic, the Serbian prime minister, who claimed that the lives of minority Serbs in Kosovo were under threat.

Serbian officials say a United Nations resolution that formally ended Belgrade’s bloody crackdown on the breakaway Kosovar Albanian majority in 1999 allows some 1,000 Serb soldiers to return to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to end the war and drive its troops out of Kosovo.

NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo since the war would have to give the green light for Serb troops to go there, which is highly unlikely because it would effectively mean handing over the security of the Serb-populated northern regions of Kosovo to the serb forces.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s office said any such move by Serbia would be “an act of aggression” and an indication of “Serbia’s tendencies” to destabilize the region.

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The EU has urged Serbia and Kosovo to resolve their dispute and normalize relations in order to be eligible for membership of the bloc.

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Bodo Weber, senior associate at the Council for Democratization Policy, told Al Jazeera that a NATO deployment permit “would mean the complete defeat and reversal of political development and progress over the last two decades, and particularly the last decade.” , in the reconciliation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and the steps that Serbia had taken in the framework of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue on the recognition of the reality of an independent Kosovo”.

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