US Blames Serb Hardliners for North Kosovo Violence

As Pristina and Belgrade strive to normalize relations between each other, a US State Department report said Serb hardliners had tried to block those efforts in northern Kosovo.

(kosovocompromisestuff) Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Human Rights Practices Report for 2013 published this week by the State Department said: “Important human rights problem during the year centered on Kosovo Serb hardliners’ efforts to block normalization, including establishing roadblocks in the northern part of the country and restricting basic rights such as freedom of movement of persons and goods.”The State Department also blamed hardliners for the killing of an EU rule-of law mission custom officer, Audrius Senavicius, last September.“Hardliners and criminal elements employed violence and intimidation against domestic opponents and international security forces,” it noted. Since the conflict in Kosovo ended in the late 1990s, the north of the country has been beyond the Kosovo government's control while Serbia has continued to finance local security, judicial, health and educational institutions. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia refuses to recognize it. However, both sides are now conducting an EU-facilitated dialogue aiming to "normalize" relations. On April 19, 2013, Pristina and Belgrade adopted a draft agreement, which mainly concerned the position of Serbs in the north. Under the agreement, an Association of Serbian Municipalities with broad powers is to be set up, including the four Serb-run northern municipalities of North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok. Local elections held in November throughout Kosovo then produced new mayors for the northern Serbian municipalities. But many people in the north boycotted the November 3 2013 vote and masked men attacked some polling stations on the Serb side of the divided northern town of Mitrovica, causing some of them to close early.“While both the Kosovo and Serbian governments encouraged voter participation, hardliners urged a boycott, and assailants attacked three polling stations in the north in Zvecan “, the US report noted. Other general human rights problems in Kosovo, according to the State Department, included “reported police mistreatment of detainees; inmate-on-inmate violence, corruption, and favoritism in prisons; substandard physical conditions in prisons; lengthy pretrial detention and judicial inefficiency; intimidation of the media by public officials and criminal elements; restrictions on religious freedom and vandalism on religious grounds”. The report also noted “limited progress in returning displaced persons to their homes... government corruption; anti-Semitic rhetoric; trafficking in persons; poor conditions in mental health facilities; sporadic ethnic tensions in the north; and child labor in the informal sector".