PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s president on Saturday announced that local elections in majority Serb areas in the north would be delayed until April, a move aimed at defusing ethnic tensions that have intensified in recent months.
Serb mayors in northern Kosovo municipalities, along with local judges and some 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest over a government decision to replace Belgrade-issued car license plates with ones issued by Pristina.
Elections had been scheduled for Dec. 18 but Serbs said they would boycott the polls.
“In order to ensure a big participation in these elections, to have observers from local and international partners…my evaluation is that the postponement is necessary,” President Vjosa Osmani told reporters after meeting members of the political parties.
She said the elections will be held on April 23.
Serbs from Kosovo’s north on Saturday blocked main roads in the area to protest against the arrest of a former member of the Kosovo police who quit his post last month along with other ethnic Serbs.
Police in Pristina did not say on what charges he was arrested.
Sirens blared in the northern part of Mitrovica and neighbouring Zvecan, as trucks and trailers were used to block off roads.
Petar Petkovic, the head of Serbia’s Department for Kosovo, said former policeman Dejan Pantic had been detained at the border with Serbia when he returned from shopping there.
“This is a brutal retaliation and intimidation by (Kosovo’s prime minister Albin) Kurti, who has now decided to persecute Serb policemen without any grounds or evidence,” Petkovic said in a statement.
Earlier, Kosovo police arrested another Serb, on suspicion of taking part in an armed attack on a police patrol. On Thursday, a policeman was injured in an attack on a patrol after police ranks in the area had been reinforced by non-Serb officers following the mass resignations.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Ognen Teofilovski in North Mitrovica and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; editing by Ros Russell)