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news 27 Jul 11

Serb 'Hooligans' Burn Kosovo-Serbia Crossing

Brussels, Kosovo and Serbia condemn the burning of a border crossing as KFOR announces it is deploying more troops to calm the situation in north Kosovo.

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, strongly condemned the violence on the Kosovo-Serbia border. "It is the responsibility of both Belgrade and Pristina to remove the tension and restore peace and security for all," she said.

"It's important for both sides to return to dialogue and resolve open issues without delay," Ashton added.

Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, however, blamed Belgrade for the unrest in Serb-run northern Kosovo and for the arson attack on the border crossing at Jarinje.

Speaking at 11pm Wednesday, Thaci said that those who set the border crossing on fire were encouraged by "Serbian parallel structures" [ie local authorities responsible to Belgrade] and by Belgrade, which funds such structures.

Serbia's President, Boris Tadic, called for an immediate end to the violence in northern Kosovo, saying that "the hooligans" who caused the violence on the border were not defending Serbia or its citizens.

Serbia's public broadcaster, RTS, said the violence began early on Wednesday evening. A group of about 50 young men arrived at the Jarinje crossing from the northern, Serb-run part of Mitrovica at 7pm, asked the crowd gathered at the border to move away and then demolished and burned the structures.

Footage showed thick smoke rising from the scene.

Local media reported that shots were fired soon after, as the group then moved towards the KFOR soldiers patrolling the scene.

KFOR issued a statement saying the situation had deteriorated at the customs post at Jarinje, confirming the arson attack as well as reports of shots fired at KFOR personnel.

"KFOR forces there will be reinforced during the evening in order to prevent further escalation of the situation," the statement said.

KFOR has now also increased security measures and personal protection measures at the other disputed border crossing at Brnjak.

At 9.40pm, KFOR began transporting troops to the border crossing of Brnjak as reinforcements.

Elsewhere, north Kosovo was calm on Wednesday. Groups of people gathered at the entrance to the town of Zvecan but did not block the road. Only the road close to the village of Lesak was blocked in both directions.

According to the RTS, KFOR US forces in armoured vehicles entered the border crossing of Jarinje at 8pm.

Oliver Ivanovic, Serbia's state secretary for Kosovo, last night voiced concern about further violence. "One act of violence produces more violence. I am afraid we are entering a spiral of violence," he told Reuters.

Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, meanwhile condemned the attack on the border crossing and urged Kosovo Serbs to prevent extremist groups from provoking incidents.

"What the extremist groups have done should be condemned. We cannot resolve problems in this manner," Bogdanovic said.

The crisis in the north started on Monday night, when Kosovo special police took over the checkpoints in the Serb-held north 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.

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