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North Mitrovica Mayor Resigns Over Tariffs, Alleged Human Rights Abuses


In North Mitrovica, locals protest the tax imposed by the government on the import of goods from Serbia on November 27.

The ethnic Serb mayor of North Mitrovica says he is resigning in protest over Kosovo's tariffs on imports from Serbia and alleged human rights violations against Serbs living in the country.

Mayor Goran Rakic made the announcement on November 27, and the president of the local assembly in North Mitrovica, Dejan Guresic, said the mayors of the three other predominantly ethnic Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo -- Leposavic, Zubin Potok, and Zvecan -- followed suit.

The moves come amid heightened tensions in the region since Kosovo earlier this month imposed a 100 percent tax on products from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in retaliation for what it said were Belgrade's efforts to undermine the young republic in the international stage.

Demonstrators rallied in North Mitrovica against the tariff hike, holding placards with slogans such as "We want peace, not wars" and "Do not lock us in a ghetto."

In announcing his decision to step down, Rakic said that Pristina's "inhumane" decision prevented "the normal supply and distribution of goods from Serbia to Kosovo."

He also cited "continued institutional violence" against ethnic Serbs, "unlawful" arrests, and "an attempt to kill" Serbian political leader and businessman Milan Radoicic.

A statement posted on the main Kosovo Serb political party Serbian List's official Facebook page on November 25 and attributed to Radoicic alleged that Kosovar police raided his home last week in order to kill him.

Kosovar authorities issued a warrant for the arrest of Radoicic, who has been on the run since the police raid on November 23.

He is wanted as a suspect in the January killing of rival politician Oliver Ivanovic.

Three other ethnic Serbs, including two police officers, were detained in the same operation in Mitrovica on suspicion of involvement in Ivanovic's killing.

The arrests sparked protests by groups of ethnic Serbs in the divided town.

Relations between Pristina and Belgrade have been tense since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Serbia -- and Bosnia -- do not.

Both Kosovo and Serbia have been told they must resolve their differences in order to make progress toward EU membership.

However, EU-sponsored normalization talks between the two countries' leaders have been stop-and-go in recent months.

Kosovo's November 21 decision to impose the 100 percent taxes on Serbian and Bosnian products drew angry reactions from Belgrade and Sarajevo and calls from the European Union and the United States to revoke the measures.

Meeting with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci in Washington on November 26, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the country to rescind the tariffs and to work with Belgrade to "avoid provocations and deescalate tensions," according to the State Department.

Pompeo also "reaffirmed steadfast U.S. support for a sovereign, independent Kosovo, fully integrated into the international community" and encouraged Pristina to "reach a historic, comprehensive normalization deal" with Belgrade, department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"Normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia is the only way to clear the path to both countries' future integration into the Western community of nations," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Thaci called his meeting with Pompeo "excellent."

"Kosovo blessed to have US support in all stages of our fight for freedom & independence. We are now working together to achieve comprehensive agreement [between] Kosovo & Serbia to ensure peace & guarantee #Kosovo membership to UN, NATO & EU," he tweeted.

Also on November 26, Albania, another key ally of predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo, lent support to the tariffs imposed on Serbian goods, with Prime Minister Edi Rama saying the move was a justified "political reaction."

He was speaking in the western Kosovo town of Pec, where the Kosovar and Albanian governments met to sign a deal to eliminate trade barriers on the two countries' border by mid-2019.