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News 26 Jul 11

Serbia's Tadic Pledges 'No War' Over North Kosovo

Serbian President condemns Pristina for sending its police into Serb-run northern Kosovo, while making it plain that he seeks a peaceful resolution of the issue.

Bojana Barlovac Belgrade

Serbian President Boris Tadic quashed fears a fresh military conflict in the Balkans, saying that Serbia "will not go to war" in response to Kosovo police action in Serb-run northern Kosovo.

Tadic, who traveled to Prague this afternoon, said problems should be solved by diplomatic means.

Tensions grew between the two countries on Monday night after Kosovo Police unilaterally seized two border crossings at Jarinje and Brnjak, which the EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX, has controlled since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Tadic said he wished to warn "all those in the international community who may be encouraging the authorities in Pristina to embark on such activities", saying they were making "a catastrophic mistake, exposing this part of Europe to immense risk".

Tadic said that "unilateralism of any kind" threatened to "completely derail the process of the dialogue between Belgrade and Priština".

Earlier, Milivoje Mihajlovic, head of the Serbian government's information bureau, said the government wished to peacefully resolve the current stand-off in north Kosovo.

"Kosovo and Metohija is under the protectorate of the United Nations and the international community and we have to try to indicate the point of the problem in these centres of power through diplomatic channels and thus to try to solve it," Mihajlovic said in Belgrade.

Oliver Ivanovic, State Secretary in the Serbian Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija, said the move had been carefully prepared by the authorities in Pristina.

He said the "plan" involved Pristina first blocking the import of Serbian goods, "and then they sent [police] officers to the administrative line [ie the border]," Ivanovic said.

Belgrade Political analyst Jovo Bakic said the surprise action could not have been undertaken without the prior knowledge of the EU and the US. He said the move was designed to pressure on Belgrade to negotiate with Kosovo.

"This is an ultimatum; you will negotiate or we will let the Albanians solve what they want," Bakic said, attributing motives to the international community.

He said that one consequence of the police action in Kosovo could be the strengthening of nationalist parties in Serbia.

Military analyst Aleksandar Radic said he doubted that the affair would develop into a wider conflict at the moment but there was always a risk.

"People on the ground can turn any situation in an undesirable direction," he said.

Radic said that Serbia's room for manoeuvre was limited, and all it could do is to invest its efforts in a diplomatic solution.

Meanwhile, opposition parties in Serbia demanded a tougher response from the Serbian government, which is led by the pro-EU Democratic Party.

Slobodan Samardzic, of the opposition Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, accused officials of reacting too slowly.

He claimed that people in Kosovo had known for two days that Kosovo's police were about to take control of the border crossings.

Another opposition party, the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, called on President Boris Tadic to come to parliament and explain the government's stance on the Kosovo issue.

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