A fresh dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has broken out after the latter’s police raided a Serb-majority municipality in northern Kosovo on Tuesday.
In a statement, Kosovo police said several people were arrested in a police crackdown on suspicion of establishing or participating a crime group, smuggling, and corruption.
The arrests were made in the southern and northern parts of the Mitrovica city, it said.
“The police operation was preceded by a one-month investigation of the Kosovo Police Inspectorate and the Kosovo Police, based on the order of the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo, which resulted in a well-founded suspicion that some police officers and some citizens participated in organized criminal activities,” read the statement.
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj urged Serbs living in northern Kosovo to preserve the peace and respect the law.
Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said 23 people of Serb and Bosniak ethnicity were arrested in the north of Kosovo, mostly members of the Kosovo police.
He called the arrests as “an attempt to completely criminalize our people more agitated than ever” in a parliamentary speech in Belgrade.
Vucic also ordered Serbian troops to full alert in the wake of Kosovo police arrests.
“If there is a violation of the constitutional order and attacks on Serbs in the north of Kosovo, we will protect our people. As the supreme commander, I ordered the full combat and combat readiness of Serb armies …,” he said.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade insists the country remains part of Serbia. Since then, tensions have persisted between Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority and a small Serb minority in the north.
Kosovo’s independence is recognized by over 100 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.
Serbia, Russia, and China are among the countries which have not yet recognized its independence.