Tense end to Vucic's visit as Albanians put up barricades
President Aleksandar Vucic completed his 2-day visit to Kosovo and Metohija on Sunday by addressing citizens at the central square in Kosovska Mitrovica.Source: B92, Tanjug, Prva TV
The second day of Vucic's visit to Kosovo was marked by incidents and the roadblocks put up by ethnic Albanians on the way to the Serb village of Banje.
The president then decided to return to Kosovska Mitrovica, as police informed him that the blockades were two kilometers ahead of the convoy, and that it was not safe to continue the trip.
Vucic told Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica that his obligation was to say that Serbia will always be with its people in Kosovo and Metohija, through thick and thin, and that it "only wants to win more rights for Serbs in Kosovo through a compromise."
He added that there is currently no "draft solution" for the Kosovo issue - "nor are we close to it."
Earlier in the day, roadblock were set up on five locations using tractors and logs. Then the Kosovo government decided to cancel Vucic's visit to the village of Banje for security reasons. The decision came into force "immediately," Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj announced.
Pristina-based media were publishing photographs and video footage of the barricades on the roads along which the president was supposed to travel.
Hundreds of Albanians, including former members of the KLA ("Kosovo Liberation Army") blocked the road to the village of Banje, in the municipality of Srbica, using excavators, trucks and logs, along with piles of wood and car tires that were then set on fire.
Banners reading, "Vucic will not pass," and "Vucic go back" were also seen.
When he returned to Kosovska Mitrovica, Vucic addressed citizens in Banje by telephone.
"I'm sorry that I could not come, because Pristina authorities did not want it," Vucic said on the phone.
He said that those who had set up the barricades "will not encounter a unanimous condemnation, because whatever they do, it's their own baby."
"I've come to tell the truth about our difficult situation, because I cannot and must not be silent," he added.
Vucic said that the idea is to preserve peace, and "we are trying to establish bridges of trust towards the Albanians.
"I intend to make this country big, not because it will conquer the Balkans or the world, but by conquering the future," he said.
Earlier, reactions to the incidents had been coming from all sides. Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said that this was a test for the Kosovo police and KFOR because they were under obligation to enable the visit.
Stefanovic told the Prva TV that security services had informed Vucic about the situation in Kosovo.
Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that Vucic "will not be unprotected."
The European Union voiced its regret and called on those responsible to preserve order and ensure a safe continuation of the Serbian president's visit.
US Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott also reacted, to say that tensions during the visit "emphasize the need for compromise and normalization of relations."
Over in Pristina, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said he "understands the reaction of the Drenica residents who expressed their justified revolt against the visit."
"This shows that the pain and the wounds are still fresh. However, when we strive for peace and reconciliation, protests and roadblocks do not help at all. I welcome the decision of the Kosovo government to cancel Vucic's visit to the village of Banje," Thaci said.
The Kosovo police, meanwhile, claimed that the situation was calm, and that "no incident has been reported."
Visit to Gazivode
The core and the gravity of the problems we are facing, the differing views and the difficult political struggles we have had are best visible here, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said at Lake Gazivode, on Saturday.
He said the essence of his visit was to see what had been done so far and what could be done, as well as to prepare investment plans for every majority Serb municipality.
"It is time to try to establish a dialogue between Serbs and Albanians that is much more mutually respectful. It is important that Serbs and Albanians carry a message of peace because we have tried everything with Albanians and it has not brought much luck to us or them, either," Vucic said.
Commenting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement about territorial integrity as a starting point for keeping the Balkans the way it is now, Vucic said it was difficult to say why that had not been valid for some in the region in 2008 while it was supposed to be valid today.
Vucic also said on Saturday that he had had no contacts with anyone from the US concerning his visit to Lake Gazivode - which is a major hydro-power complex in northern, mostly Serb part o Kosovo - that was initially banned by the Pristina authorities.
"They were sending me messages, but I do not respond to messages, I do not like messages," he told reporters after a visit to the Gazivode Dam.
Serbs living south of the River Ibar have no reason for concern because we are nowhere near any agreement, Vucic also said on Saturday, after his visit to the dam, Tanjug reported.
He said that, even if something changed and his proposals were accepted, all Kosovo and Metohija Serbs would have "much more rights than they did today and live incomparably better."