Bill Clinton tells Kosovo: stop ‘foolishness’ in Serb-majority north

TIRANA (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, largely credited for ending the Kosovo war more than two decades ago, on Monday told Kosovo’s government to stop its actions in the Serb majority north, where tension has flared over the past few months.

Kosovo’s northern region, home to 50,000 ethnic Serbs, has recently seen its worst tensions since Pristina declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Violence erupted in late May after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election in which turnout was just 3.5% after Serbs boycotted the vote.

Some 30 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serb protesters, and 52 protesters were wounded.

“It’s easy for the Albanians now in the majority to try to use the moment to make a point. But the real thing we need to do is to stop this foolishness,” Clinton said during a ceremony in Tirana where he received a medal from Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Clinton was the most outspoken proponent of NATO intervention to halt killings of Kosovar civilians by Serbian forces as part of Belgrade’s 1998-99 crackdown on a Kosovo Albanian guerrilla uprising.

The war ended in June 1999 after 78 days of NATO bombardments against Serbia’s forces.

The United States and the European Union, Kosovo’s main allies, have mainly blamed Prime Minister Albin Kurti for igniting tension in the north by installing four mayors in their offices with police despite objections from local Serbs.

“What major political issue can possibly be advanced by how those four little towns are run?” Clinton said.

In Belgrade, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said growing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina “cause great concern, as well as the increase in violence”.

After meeting Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, he stressed the importance of Belgrade and Pristina taking steps towards de-escalating and normalising relations.

“It is crucial for the wider region and Europe as a whole. While the war in Ukraine is raging, it is more important than ever that we act together,” Rutte said.

The EU has already placed sanctions on Kosovo, including halting a large part of its economic aid, and has threatened more measures if Kurti does not back down.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina, Florion Goga in Tirana and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Sonali Paul)