NATO takes control of Kosovo border crossings amid ethnic tension


Slovenian troops serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo set up a checkpoint on the bridge in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica on Thursday.
American and French peacekeepers took control of two customs posts on Kosovo’s northern border with Serbia on Thursday after they were attacked by Serbs armed with firebombs, a NATO spokesman said.
Cpt. Hans Wichter said only small vehicles are now being allowed to pass through the outposts because “the infrastructure is heavily damaged” and that each vehicle is being checked for weapons. A mob of about 200 Serbs attacked the outposts late on Wednesday, setting one of them on fire and killing a Kosovo policeman. As the masked Serbs attacked, European Union police on the scene leaped into their cars and fled the area, according to video shown on Serbia’s state-run RTS television. The attack occurred during mounting tension between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs in the area.

It began when Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci ordered special police units to take over the two disputed border posts, which were previously manned by Serb members of the police under EU supervision.

Thaci’s stated goal was to enforce Kosovo’s ban on goods from Serbia in the Serb-run area, which has rejected Kosovo’s 2008 secession. Kosovo police soon declared the operation over and said they were withdrawing from the area on Wednesday, but the mob of Serbs attacked the area. Kosovo blamed Serbia for orchestrating the assault, but Serbian President Boris Tadic said it was conducted by hooligans. NATO is trying to reach an agreement that would ease tensions between the two sides. Nicholas Hawton, spokesman for the EU police mission in Kosovo, condemned the attack and appealed for people to remain calm, while Tadic also urged an “immediate end” to violence in the north of Kosovo, a statement from his office said.

“[The] hooligans who cause violence are not defending Serbia or the Serbian citizens,” said Tadic. He also called on Kosovo Serbs to remain calm. The European Union has condemned the police action that led to the rise in tensions in Kosovo. Crowds of Serbs staged a similar attack on the same border posts in 2008 in reaction to Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

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