Aleksandar Vucic has urged Pristina and Western powers to avoid conflict, but vowed to use force if Serbs are persecuted
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has issued a plea for peace in Kosovo amid rising tensions with Pristina. However, he also vowed to fight to the death if ethnic Serbs in the self-proclaimed republic are targeted for another pogrom.
"The atmosphere has been heated up, and the Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities," Vucic said in Belgrade on Sunday. "My plea to everyone is to try to keep the peace at almost any cost. I am asking the Albanians to come to their senses, the Serbs not to fall for provocations, but I am also asking the representatives of powerful and large countries, which have recognized the so-called independence of Kosovo, to pay a little attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict."
Vucic's comments came as Pristina prepared to implement a controversial law requiring ethnic Serbs living in the disputed territory to replace their Serbian-issued vehicle registrations with Kosovo plates, starting on Monday. Kosovo also may require the replacement of other types of Serbian-issued documents, such as identification cards, and it will make a renewed attempt to ban entry or issue temporary papers to travelers with Serbian-issued documents or license plates.
Church bells rang in alarm across the northern part of the province on Sunday, amid reports that armed ethnic Albanians were gathering for another pogrom of the remaining Serbs - as had happened in 2004.
The Serbian president claimed last month that the registration policy was part of an effort to force remaining Serbs out of Kosovo. He referred to the move as "a new Storm," in reference to the Croatian military operation in 1995 that forced most Serbs to flee Croatia.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic told reporters on Saturday that "the Albanian side in Kosovo and Metohija is literally preparing to raise hell for Serbs."
Kosovo's prime minister Albin Kurti, an ethnic Albanian, has denied that the transition to non-Serbian documents is anything more than applying "law and justice" equally to all citizens.
"Trust your government," he said in a videotaped message in Serbian.
Vucic has claimed that "provocations" against Serbs living in Kosovo have increased since Kurti, a nationalist who champions the idea of Albanian unification, became prime minister last year. The number of such incidents, including attacks by ethnic Albanians on Serbian cemeteries and Orthodox churches, has jumped 50%, he told reporters on Sunday.
"We do not want conflicts and we do not want war," Vucic said in his speech. "We will pray for peace and seek peace, but let me tell you right away: There will be no surrender, and Serbia will win. If they dare to start persecuting, harassing and killing Serbs, Serbia will win."
Vucic also speculated that Pristina is trying to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis by provoking a conflict in which Kurti would be portrayed sympathetically as Kosovo's version of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, with the Serbs cast in the role of Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province declared independence in 2008, with Western support. While the US and most of its allies have recognized it, Serbia, Russia, China and the UN in general have not.