Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo spar at the UN over the latter’s ban of the Serbian dinar

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo sparred at the United Nations over the latter’s ban of the use of the Serbian currency in areas where minority Serbs live, the latest crisis between the two governments.

Tensions escalated after the government of Kosovo, a former Serbian province, banned banks and other financial institutions in the Serb-populated areas from using the dinar in local transactions, starting Feb. 1, and imposed the euro.

The dinar was widely used in ethnic Serbian-dominated areas, especially in Kosovo’s north, to pay pensions and salaries to staff in Serbian parallel institutions, including schools and hospitals. Serbia said last week it would seek an emergency meeting at the U.N. Security Council over the issue.

In 1999, a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. Serbian forces were pushed out but Belgrade never recognized Kosovo’s independence and still considers it a Serbian province.

At a heated meeting on Thursday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the council that abolishing the dinar was a push to make living conditions unbearable for the minority Serb community with the goal of expelling them.

He said it was “nothing more than another in a series of facts of persecution, and a systematic and widespread attack on the Serbian population — in one word, a crime against humanity.”

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti retorted that claims his country is conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Serbs are “a lie,” and said that abolishing the dinar will prevent criminal groups in Kosovo from receiving illegal cash.

“Serbs who leave Kosovo just as those who leave Serbia, do so to pursue opportunities in Western Europe, not to flee some fictional ethnic cleansing campaign,” Kurti said.

The European Union and the United States expressed concern that Kosovo’s ban of the dinar could raise tensions in an already volatile region and called for consultations and a delay in the ban.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged for an immediate postponement of the ban, telling the council “the decision was taken without adequate preparation or consultation with the local population.”

She also expressed deep concern at “uncoordinated actions” taken by the Kosovo government, including law enforcement operations at offices of Serb-supported institutions in western Kosovo and the nongovernmental Center for Peace and Tolerance in the capital of Pristina, an ethnic Serb institution where papers and computers were confiscated.

Russia’s deputy ambassador Dmitry Polyansky strongly criticized Kurti for calling ethnic Serbs “criminals” and accused Kosovo of organizing “anti-Serbian terror” and trying to get rid of the “non-Albanian population.”

He said the ban of the dinar was “a criminal and deceitful step” and that about 100,000 non-Albanians risk being left without their pensions, scholarships and salaries. Polyansky also said it “undermines all efforts made by the international community to find compromises and lasting solutions and dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.”

“As a result, what we have is a direct risk that there will be a new outbreak of violence in the Balkans,” he added.

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