North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops restored order in northern Kosovo after a group of Serbian youths torched a border crossing, sparking fear of renewed violence between the two Balkan nations.
NATO boosted its presence after soldiers were also shot at in the Serb-dominated part of Kosovo yesterday, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Pristina, the capital. There were no reported injuries.
“The situation is calm,” Hans Wichter, spokesman for the NATO operation in Kosovo, known as KFOR, said by phone today. “We have boosted our presence across the northern part.”
The violence started after Kosovo police tried to take control of two border crossings from local Serbian and European Union police. Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci rejected EU criticisms of the move, which led to the death of one Kosovo policeman, saying the operation was in line with international law. The dispute comes as Serbia tries to earn European Union candidate status this year.
“We work for the opening of borders, for European borders, but we will not tolerate, in no way, the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo,” Thaci said in a televised press conference aired on Radiotelevizioni i Kosoves late yesterday.
Serbia’s government condemned the violence and blamed the Kosovo authorities for the escalation in tensions.
It was “not a desire to impose law and order, but a clear intention to change reality in the north of the province through force and even at the cost of human lives,” the Serbian Cabinet said in a statement in Belgrade. “There are too many indications that the authorities in Pristina coordinated the operations with individuals from the international institutions.”
The border crossing at Jarinje has been closed for traffic because “the infrastructure is heavily damaged,” KFOR said in a statement today.
The violence was condemned by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who urged both sides to reach a negotiated settlement.
“We jointly condemn all acts of violence,” the U.K. Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, said in a statement e-mailed today by the British Foreign Office in London. “We underline the necessity to respect the territorial integrity of Kosovo, to refrain from further acts of violence and from any steps that may have a negative impact on stability and security.”
Kosovo wants to assert authority over its northern borders with Serbia, which refuses to recognize its former province as a state.
Serbia, which is aiming for an accelerated EU integration process after it captured the last remaining war crimes criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, will need to find a way to deal with Kosovo, a key condition in its EU bid.
The two nations that were at war over a decade ago have been engaged in EU-sponsored talks on ways to improve trade relations. Those efforts were rattled after Kosovo imposed a trade embargo on Serbian products in reaction to Serbia’s reluctance to accept on their customs declaration forms the stamp with the Republic of Kosovo insignia.
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