Breaking– At about 5:00 a.m. today, international police and KFOR stormed the courthouse which has been illegally occupied by Serb protesters since last Friday. Approximately 30 people have been arrested and are expected to be brought to Pristina for processing. Under the Provisional Criminal Procedure Code of Kosovo, if the police have “grounded suspicion” (akin to probable cause) that a defendant has committed a crime, then the police can detain the defendant for 72 hours. A defendant has access to an attorney. After 72 hours, the police either have to release the defendant or bring the defendant in front of a judge for a detention hearing (bail or no bail).
It is unclear what the protesters have been arrested for at this time, but there is likely a range between minor offenses to crimes related to the participation in a crowd that commits a criminal offense. Given the ethnic tensions, I do expect this case to be handled by International Prosecutors.
Although the arrests and seizure of the protesters inside the building went without incident, the same can’t be said for what happened after. Once the protesters were arrested, approximately one hundred Serbian protesters gathered near the District courthouse and began hurling stones and objects at both the international police and KFOR. Despite the police use of tear gas, at least two UN vehicles were damaged. Police and civilian injuries are unknown at this time. The “confrontation” between the Serbian protesters and police is still underway. I had hoped that everything will settle down shortly.
It did not. Serbian protesters are firing their AK-47s and other firearms. Protesters have also thrown grenades at KFOR. At least 20 KFOR officers have been injured, some seriously.
The Serbian protesters who had been holed up in the Court for the last three days, some of whom were former employees of the court, demanded to set up their own court. Not surprisingly, UNMIK refused this request. Fortunately, the dispute was not sent to the Troika for further negotiations.
Here is a press release from UNMIK:
Principal Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (PDSRSG) in Kosovo Larry Rossin and COMKFOR Lt.-Gen. Xavier Bout de Marnhac condemn the resort to lethal violence, including direct fire, taken by a mob today at the Mitrovica Court house.
The PDSRSG and COMKFOR underlined that the violence directed at UNMIK police and KFOR personnel, which had re-established control of the Court in a joint operation this morning, is a flagrant breach of UN Security Council resolution 1244. They urged all communities to exercise calm. They said further that the resort to violence crosses one of the red lines that have been clearly articulated to the leaders of Kosovo Serbs in the north and to officials in Belgrade, adding that UNMIK and KFOR will reassert control of north Mitrovica.
As a temporary measure, UNMIK police from north Mitrovica are redeploying outside of the city while KFOR re-establishes control. UNMIK police, supported by KFOR, remain in control at Gates 1 and 31 and in other parts of the Mitrovica region. The operation by UNMIK Police and KFOR to restore law and order in northern Mitrovica by re-establishing control of the UNMIK Courthouse began at approximately 5:30am this morning. The Court house had been forcibly occupied by a mob on Friday, 14 March.