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News 27 Jul 11

Kosovo Special Police Forces Withdraw from Serbia Border

Kosovo Interior Minister confirmed that a special police unit, which took control of two crossings with Serbia on Monday, had pulled back as part of an agreement with NATO. 

Lawrence Marzouk, Zoran Kosanovic

Kosovo North Blockade

Bajram Rexhepi, Kosovo Interior Minister, on Wednesday said special police units had been withdrawn from the border points after completing their mission.

Kosovo police and customs officials, both Serbs and Albanians, had returned to work there alongside KFOR, he added.

"The special unit has completed its mission -  their mission has been the return of order to border points 1 and 31," the minister said.

Agreement was reached yesterday between the sides after the operation conducted by Kosovo Police's special unit - one of whom has been confirmed dead from a firefight.

Dozens of Serbs from Leposavic in northern Kosovo blocked roads to the crossings with Serbia on Wednesday morning, making sure that the special police stuck to an agreement to withdraw from the Brnjak and Jarinje crossing points.

The special police took over the checkpoints in the Serb-held north on Monday night in a move to enforce a recent order from Pristina, banning the import of goods from Serbia.

But they encountered resistance from well organised locals, and failed to gain support for their action from the European Union and the US.

A US State Department spokeswoman on Tuesday said: "The United States regrets that last night's action by the Kosovo government... was not co-ordinated with the international community."

The International Civilian Office, the body set up by supporters of Kosovo's independence to surpervise the country, was less critical.

Kosovo was entitled to take control of its borders "as any sovereign country", spokesman Andy McGuffie said.

"It is now of the highest importance that this matter is resolved peacefully through discussions and negotiations," he added.

Serbia's Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, and the head of Serbia's Kosovo talks team, Borislav Stefanovic, were at Jarinje on Wednesday, waiting to meet KFOR's commander, General Erhard Buehler.

Local Serb nerves were heightened after Kosovo police withdrew from one border checkpoint and then reportedly returned to it again on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the precise situation on the ground remains unclear, and Kosovo and Serbian media published contradictory accounts about the nature of the agreement reached on Tuesday and the movements of the police unit.

Some reports on Wednesday claimed that the border points remained under the control of Kosovo police special while others said all or part of these teams had already pulled back.

According to Stefanovic, the agreement was that Serbs would unblock roads in northern Kosovo and in return, ethnic Serb members of the Kosovo police would deploy on the disputed border checkpoints.

On Tuesday night it was confired that one member of Kosovo Police's special unit died after being shot in the head during the operation. Another five were injured.


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