A new mayor has been sworn in in northern Kosovo after a vote in April that was boycotted by the ethnic Serb minority which dominates the area.
Erden Atic, who is from the Bosnian minority, took up his post in the northern, Serb-dominated part of the divided city of Mitrovica on Friday, calling on citizens to cooperate.
“We shall work for all citizens of Mitrovica’s northern commune, without any discrimination,” said Atic, who represents the Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje! of Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
A Kosovar police presence and officers from the European Union rule of law mission, or EULEX, were seen in the area. The ceremony was held peacefully.
Local elections were held last month in four Serb-dominated communes in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives left their posts last year in protest at the establishment of the association, which would coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development at the local level.
With Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs demanding autonomy, Kosovar Albanians fear that may turn into a new ministate like Srpska Republika in Bosnia.
A 2013 Pristina-Belgrade agreement on that plan was later declared unconstitutional by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers to impose laws.
Only 3.57% of the voters took part in the snap election in April.
Fearing a flare-up of tensions, the five Western powers — the U.S., France, Italy, Germany and the U.K. — called on the newly elected Albanian officials not to use force to take over the offices or public buildings.
“All parties should refrain from the use of force or actions that inflame tensions or promote conflict,” they said in a statement.
The chief Serbian negotiator for Kosovo, Petar Petkovic, described Atic’s mayoral inauguration as “unacceptable” and an “occupation” orchestrated by Kurti.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic talked to EU mediator Miroslav Lajcak Friday. Vucic was cancelling part of his schedule to hold a series of discussions focusing on Kosovo.
“Vucic warned Lajcak of all the consequences of Kurti’s behavior and provocations that could turn into a new crisis and that they want to expel the Serbian people and provoke a war,” said Petkovic.
Local Kosovo Serb politicians in the north warned the ethnic Albanian authorities to stop alleged “repression” of Serbs by June 1 or face an unspecified response.
Washington and Brussels have stepped up efforts to help solve the dispute, fearing further instability in Europe as the war rages in Ukraine.
Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told they must normalize relations to advance in their intentions to join the EU. The two sides have tentatively agreed to back an EU plan on how to proceed, but tensions continue to simmer.
The conflict in Kosovo erupted in 1998 when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s rule, and Serbia responded with a brutal crackdown. About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died. NATO’s military intervention in 1999 eventually forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.
Washington and most European Union countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state but Serbia, along with Russia and China, has not.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade.