Kosovo remains tense, troops on streets

2011-09-29 20:06

Mitrovica - Serbs re-inforced barricades in northern Kosovo's divided city of Mitrovica on Thursday and Nato peacekeepers were out in force, two days after 20 people were injured in clashes.

Ethnic Serbs in north Kosovo have set up roadblocks to try to prevent the government from extending its rule into Serb areas of the predominantly ethnic Albanian country.

Nato-led peacekeepers, known as KFOR, dismantled one of the blockades at the Jarinje border crossing with Serbia on Tuesday, leading to clashes with Serb demonstrators in which at least 16 Serbs and four peacekeepers were injured.

Since further clashes on Wednesday, the peacekeepers have maintained a presence on the streets. Dozens of Nato troops in armoured vehicles were stationed close to the main bridge in Mitrovica.

Nato troops also re-inforced positions near the disputed Jarinje border crossing, using heavy machinery to destroy a dirt track built by local Serbs to bypass the border post to Serbia.

A Reuters eyewitness said KFOR soldiers expanded the perimeter of their base in Jarinje to the no man's land between Kosovo and Serbia.

In a statement, Nato accused Serb extremists of provoking Tuesday's violence in Jarinje and said it would use force to protect its troops.

In Mitrovica Serbs brought truckloads of stones and reinforced their barricades on bridges across the Ibar river that splits the city into northern Serb and southern Albanian districts.

Northern Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic said the Serbs would try to avoid violence. "Even if KFOR uses force we will resist it peacefully," Krstic told Reuters.

A Western diplomat told Reuters the international bodies in Kosovo would prefer to see roadblocks removed through dialogue but that they would resort to force if negotiations failed.

"We cannot continue with this situation for ever. One day we will have to remove the roadblocks," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Kosovo police said in a statement they had detained a Serb man suspected of taking part in an attack on a group of Albanian and Roma workers on Wednesday.

Bombing campaign

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, became independent in 2008 after a decade of UN rule. A Nato bombing campaign drove out Serbian troops in 1999, but 60 000 ethnic Serbs still live in the north of the country, loyal to Belgrade.

Kosovo is recognised as an independent state by more than 80 countries, including the United States and most of the European Union, but not by Serbia, its allies Russia and China, and some EU members including Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Slovakia.

Tuesday's clashes prompted Serbia to cancel EU-mediated talks with Kosovo in Brussels aimed at improving cooperation in areas such as the flow of goods and property rights.

Borislav Stefanovic, Serbia's chief negotiator for Kosovo, said on Thursday that EU envoy Robert Cooper was due to travel to Belgrade early next week to try to resolve the impasse.

"We have to find a modality acceptable for everyone," he told reporters.

The United States called on all parties "to maintain calm, to avoid precipitous actions, to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, and allow freedom of movement."

"Roadblocks, barricades and violence... impair the daily lives of the people of Kosovo and Serbia and inhibit their freedom of movement," a US state department spokesperson said.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, said it was concerned about the violence in Kosovo and urged KFOR to maintain neutrality.

Serbia wants to join the European Union and is likely to be granted candidate status by end-October, but must mend ties with Kosovo to secure a date for EU accession talks.

Read more on:    un  |  nato  |  kosovo  |  serbia
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