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News 26 Jul 11

Kosovo Police Seize Northern Border Points

Kosovo special police took control of two border crossings in the Serb-dominated north of the country last night, raising tensions in the region.

Lawrence Marzouk
KPS
Kosovo special police | Photo by kosovahaber.net

Europe's top official in Pristina criticised Kosovo for seizing control of border points with Serbia in the Serb-held north of the country last night, saying Brussels did not see the action as helpful.

EU Special Representative Fernando Gentilini spoke hours after a special police unit took control of two border crossings with Serbia. They were sent in after the EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX, failed to enforce last week’s ban on the import of Serbian goods.

The operation "was not helpful. It was not done in consultation with the international community and the EU does not approve it," the top EU official said. "It is essential now to calm the situation down and return to where we were. EULEX stands ready to assist the Kosovo authorities in doing this.

"Unilateral action by one side or the other cannot solve the problem," he added.

EULEX has controlled the disputed points since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, when local Serbs set fire to the border crossings near the towns of Leposavic and Zubin Potok.

Both the EU mission and KFOR, the NATO force in Kosovo, said they were not involved in the police operation, despite claims to the contrary by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

As the operation got underway, Thaci announced that he had sacked the country’s top police officer, Reshat Maliqi.

The operation has raised tensions in the country’s troubled north, which is home to most of Kosovo’s Serbs and is largely controlled by Belgrade.

The road to the northern town of Leposavic was blocked by trucks placed there by local Serbs last night to stop the special unit from taking control of the nearby crossing. It is not clear whether the road remains blocked, although Kosovo officials claim they have now seized control of the crossing.

Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, and head of the Serbian negotiating team, Borislav Stefanovic, arrived in northern Kosovo last night and are negotiating with KFOR and EULEX to resolve the stand-off.

According to Kosovo media, Bogdanovic said he would be the “first one on the barricade” if Kosovo police tried to cross.

Stefanovic on Tuesday morning said that he believed a deal would be struck soon.  

Kosovo last week banned the import of all Serbian products. Belgrade placed an embargo on Kosovo goods following the 2008 declaration of independence, breaching the terms of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, CEFTA.

When talks between Belgrade and Pristina on resolving this issue failed last week, and the next round of EU-led negotiations was postponed, Kosovo introduced the ban.

But Kosovo's Interior Minister, Bajram Rexhepi, the man who ordered the police to seize the border points, said EULEX had failed to implement the decision, allowing Serbian trucks to enter Kosovo, resulting in the shock deployment.

Special point units took control of both points last night, which are now fully under Pristina’s control for the first time ever, Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci said this morning.

One police officer was injured in the operation, Rexhepi said.

KFOR called for “all the citizens of Kosovo not to react violently to the present situation in the north or at the crossing points at the administrative boundary line with Serbia”.

KFOR head General Erhard Bühler said: “KFOR does not accept any violence. In a democratic society different opinions or conflicting positions have to be solved peacefully by discussions and negotiations.”

He added that a “considerable amount of units” had been mobilised in order to intervene if necessary.

EULEX's chief spokesperson, Nicholas Hawton, said they had not been involved in “any way” in the Kosovo police operation.

“It is important that the current situation is resolved in a calm and peaceful manner. EULEX is co-ordinating closely with KFOR to do this and to maintain security,” he said.

“EULEX and the EU in Brussels have made it clear that the issue of customs stamps should be solved through the current dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. Unilateral actions by one side or the other are not helpful," he added. 

“Disputes should and must be resolved in a peaceful manner.”

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