Tensions Escalate After Kosovo Bars Serbian Train From Crossing Border
By Santiago Losada
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have risen since former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj of Kosovo was detained in France over a Serbian arrest warrant. French border police detained Haradinaj upon landing at Basel-Mulhouse airport in eastern France for his actions as a guerilla commander during the Kosovo War. The Kosovan Foreign Ministry believes that the arrest warrant issued in 2004 by Serbia is unacceptable. Serbia, on the other hand, considers Mr. Haradinaj a war criminal because of his role in leading a guerrilla insurgency. After his time as prime minister from 2004-2005, Haradinaj was tried and acquitted twice of war crimes at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. The Guardian says that investigators would look into whether there were reasons not to execute the extradition request, especially if it had been issued for Serbian political reasons.
In addition to judicial issues, President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia has warned Kosovo that Serbia will defend every inch of its territory. During a recent provocation, a train painted with the Serbian colors was prevented from crossing the border by Kosovan authorities. The New York Times reported that the train was adorned with many Serbian Orthodox religious symbols, and was a celebration of Serbian cultural heritage by having the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” written in multiple languages. Kosovo saw the train as a deliberate provocation by Serbia. Kosovo transformed itself from a Serbian province into a sovereign country by declaring itself independent in 2008. Kosovo is currently recognized by the US and by most European countries, but not by Serbia or its’ ally Russia.
The train incident has serious consequences because the use of trains is an important transport link for Serbia. This train service was the first direct link between Belgrade, Serbia and Mitrovica, Kosovo. Mitrovica is of special importance for Serbia because many of the remaining Serbians within Kosovo live within the city of Mitrovica. According to The BBC, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa of Kosovo told reporters that the train had to be stopped in order to protect the country’s sovereignty. To Kosovo, the train was a clear sign that promoted the Serbian occupation of Kosovo.
President Nikolic had to stop the train because of the guards that were placed at the Kosovo border. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic claimed that the Kosovan guards were going to blow up the train tracks and accused Kosovo of playing war games with Serbia. The incident has heightened tension between the two countries almost to the point of an armed retaliation.
Kosovo’s foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj has reached out to counterparts from the European Union and the United States denouncing what he called “numerous attacks of provocation and aggression”, according to The Guardian. Hoxhaj also encouraged recipients to urge Serbia not to interfere in Kosovan domestic affairs.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini has invited both Kosovo and Serbia to a meeting of the Dialogue of Normalisation of Relations between Belgrade and Pristina.