BULBOACA, Moldova (AP) — The leaders of France and Germany have urged their counterparts in Kosovo and Serbia to agree on holding new municipal elections in northern Kosovo, hoping that another ballot would quell a flare-up of ethnic tensions that have led to violent protests in the region.
Speaking at a summit in Moldova on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had advocated for fresh mayoral elections in four municipalities and questioned the democratic legitimacy of the votes held in northern Kosovo in April.
“What we have asked both parties is very simple: the organization as soon as possible for new elections in these four municipalities,” Macron said at the European Political Community summit in Bulboaca, Moldova. “Four mayors were elected with the votes of less than 5% of the voters, which is obviously not a condition of legitimacy.”
The local elections in question, which were overwhelmingly boycotted by Serb residents, saw ethnic Albanian mayors elected in Serb-majority towns and resulted in protests. This week, ethnic Serb demonstrators clashed with NATO-led peacekeepers, resulting in injuries to 30 international soldiers and more than 50 protesters, and sparking fears of renewed conflict in the troubled region.
Macron said he and Scholz had conferred with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani, and urged the leaders to consider the recommendations and come back with responses next week.
“It requires bravery by all involved, because they will need to play their part in positions of political responsibility to ensure that deescalation succeeds,” Scholz said in comments following the Moldova summit.
Scholz said a permanent solution to the longstanding conflict between Serbia and its former province Kosovo was close to being reached and needs only to be implemented. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move that Serbia does not recognize.
Osmani on Thursday lashed out at her Serbian counterpart, saying Vucic had been untruthful in the Moldova meetings. She described the protesters as “criminal gangs.”
“What is crucial at this point is that Serbia stops supporting these criminal gangs that are causing most of the problems in Kosovo’s north, but also beyond in our region,” Osmani said.
Vucic said Serbia’s priority is Kosovo police forces leaving the majority-populated Kosovo Serb regions along with the newly installed mayors.
NATO on Tuesday announced it would send an additional 700 troops to northern Kosovo to help quell the recent clashes. The latest violence in the region has stirred fear of a renewal of the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives, left more than 1 million people homeless and resulted in a NATO peacekeeping mission that has lasted nearly a quarter of a century.
Speaking to reporters in Oslo on Thursday, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Kosovo and Serbia to “take immediate steps to deescalate tensions and make a real effort on normalization agreements.”
“We support the process of European integration for Kosovo and Serbia but the current escalation hinders, rather than helps, the efforts in that direction,” Blinken said while attending an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Norwegian capital. “We’re looking for both to act responsibly.”
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin.