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Kosovo Police Take Control of Border in Serb-Dominated Area

July 26 (Bloomberg) -- Kosovo police moved overnight into parts of Serb-populated northern Kosovo to control one border crossing with its larger neighbor, leaving one policeman wounded and drawing criticism from the European Union.

NATO, Serbia and Kosovo are working on a solution, KFOR spokesman Capt. Hans Wichter said by phone today. The move by Kosovo special police to seize control of the Brnjak crossing, prompting local Serbs to erect roadblocks, was “not helpful,” said EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic. Serbia’s chief negotiator, Borislav Stefanovic, said a brief shootout left an officer wounded at the town of Zubin Potok. He declined to elaborate.

“It was not done in consultation either with the European Union or the international community and we do not approve of it,” Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, told reporters in Brussels. “What we believe needs to happen now is that the situation calms down and we return to where we were before this escalation.”

Serbia needs to come to terms with its former province, which declared independence in 2008, as a key requirement to open EU membership talks this year after it turned over the last war crimes suspect to a court in The Hague. Serbia wants EU candidacy to bring in investment and aid its recovery from the deepest recession since its economy collapsed in the wake of Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse.

Trade Dispute

The tension between the two sides escalated last week after Kosovo, whose independence is recognized by 22 of 27 EU members, imposed a trade embargo on Serbian products in reaction to the country’s refusal to recognize it.

“We believe that for the solution of trade, the dialogue is the right way forward,” said Kocijancic. “We believe the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina can find the appropriate solutions so that free trade in all directions can resume.”

The border crossings between the mostly Serb-populated northern Kosovo and central Serbia have been under the control of a special EU mission, known as Eulex.

Kosovo’s Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said the action was launched after Eulex allegedly failed to enforce the trade ban, Serbian state-run television reported today.

Local Serbs set up road blockades to try to prevent the Kosovo police from taking control of two other border crossings in the area, Jarinje and Rudare, Serbian media and the Associated Press reported.

The situation in the area has “calmed down a lot,” KFOR’s Wichter said, adding he can “neither confirm nor deny” reports about apparent withdrawal of Kosovo police from the border crossings.

EU Talks

“I heard the same from people on the scene, but discussions are continuing,” he said.

Serb Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic’s government wants to get a date for the start of membership talks by the end of this year as it implements changes to improve the judicial system and fight corruption and organized crime in hope of getting a positive assessment from EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule on Oct. 12.

The dinar strengthened for a third day, gaining 0.4 percent to 103.83 per euro as of 5:12 p.m. in Belgrade.

Serb negotiator Stefanovic said he asked Maj. Gen. Erhard Buehler, the commander of NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, to mediate and has requested Kosovo’s government to “recall” police.

“We do hope that this won’t escalate into a confrontation,” he said. “We hope there will be no escalation” and “the situation will be resolved within hours,” he told Serbian state broadcaster RTS.

Freedom of Movement

Eulex urged both sides to resolve the situation “in a calm and peaceful manner,” according to a statement received today, and is coordinating with peacekeepers.

Earlier this month, Belgrade and Pristina agreed to allow freedom of movement of respective citizens who carry identity cards, driving licenses and some registration plates issued by the other side, excluding passports, as part of their dialogue held under the auspices of the EU.

Serbia last week extradited Goran Hadzic, the last top commander sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a month after sending former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to The Hague, meeting a key condition for the start of EU entry talks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Misha Savic in Belgrade at msavic2@bloomberg.net Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade at gfilipovic@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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