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News 27 Jul 11

Thaci: 'No Going Back' on Kosovo Border Action

Tensions have risen sharply again in north Kosovo as Kosovo's leader says there will be 'no return to the status quo' and as Kosovo Albanian police and customs officials continue to man border crossings with Serbia.

Bojana Barlovac, Zoran Kosanovic, Shengjyl Osmani

Kosovo's leader, Hashim Thaci, said on Wednesday that there was "no going back" on the police operation aimed at taking control of customs posts in Serb-held north Kosovo.

This was "a moment of truth for the new Kosovo," the Prime Minister said. "Kosovo will not turn back, there will be no return to the status quo."

He also launched an attack on the EU-rule of law mission, EULEX, for not supporting the action saying that "for 12 years the international community has failed to take even one act to restore law and order in that part of the territory of Kosovo."

Thaci spoke out as Kosovo police told Balkan Insight that they were sending special police units back to man customs posts in the north, after allowing them to leave to attend the funeral of a colleague who died in a shootout on Tuesday.

Kosovo Serbs meanwhile mustered on the streets, following reports that the special police had not followed an agreement to withdraw from the customs posts seized on Monday night.

Serbian Hooligans Burn Kosovo Serbia Crossing

A group of young Serbs have burned down the Jarinje crossing on Wednesday. Shots were fired, reportedly by KFOR soldiers at the scene.

According to Serbian public broadcaster, a group of about 50 young men, who arrived at the Jarinje crossing at 7 p.m., from the Serb controlled northern Mitrovica first asked the crowd gathered at the border to move away and then demolished and burned the structures at the border. 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 at the scene. No further details were available.

Serbian President Boris Tadic called for an immediate end to the violence saying that the hooligans who started violence are not defending Serbia or its citizens.

 

In the town of Zubin Potok, after sirens sounded an alert at 2pm, local Serbs gathered in large numbers on barricades leading towards the border crossing at Brnjak and on the main road towards nearby Mitrovica.

Zubin Potok Municipal President Slavisa Ristic said they were gathering following receipt of information that KFOR was not fully honouring the agreed deal, and that KFOR vehicles had transported Kosovo customs and police officers back to the disputed Brnjak crossing.

A KFOR spokesman told Balkan Insight that local Serbs had shot at one of their helicopters and that KFOR only transported regular police officers to the crossings, and not members of ROSU.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Serb-run northern Mitrovica municipality declared a state of emergency, ordering cafes and restaurants to close at 3pm.

Local radio said the municipality was ordering able-bodied citizens to be ready to take part in protection and rescue tasks, when called upon by the authorities.

Thet tensions on Wednesday first escalated after the head of Serbia's team in charge of dialogue with Kosovo, Borislav Stefanovic, claimed that Kosovo Albanian officials had been "brought to the two checkpoints in the north", which he said "went contrary" to an agreement reached on Tuesday.

This led local Serbs to suggest that KFOR had used its own helicopters to return Kosovo custom and police officials to the border points.  

There are contradictory reports about who is manning the border crossings.

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

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

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.

A Facebook page set up to honour the Kosovo special policeman killed in the opertion in northern Kosovo has already received hundreds of messages. "R.I.P Enver Zymberi Heroi i Kosoves (Kosovo's Hero)" has been "liked" by almost 6,500 people since being set up today.

Meanwhile, Serbia has asked for an urgent session of the UN Security Council on the situation in Kosovo.

"I hope the meeting of the Security Council will happen and that all those who resist it being held will give up their resistance," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said in Beirut after talks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.

Jeremic said the UN Security Council needed to determine what was happening in Kosovo and decide what needed to be done to maintain peace and stability.

Kosovo Serbs who spent last nigth at the Jarinje border crossing said they were prepared to "defend" the crossing for as long as necessary.
 
“This crossing is everything to us, it is our only contact with Serbia, we travel across it, live here, have contact with our families, with our people, through here," one said.

“I have been here since it all started. We will persevere till the morning,” said another local Serb at the crossing near Leposavic.

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