Kosovo says Serbs must bow to Pristina's rule
Jul 28, 2011, 16:02 GMT
Pristina/Belgrade - Serbia and Kosovo failed to defuse the tension that exploded into violence in the Serb-dominated north, Belgrade officials said late Thursday, while NATO peacekeepers KFOR declared the contested area a military zone.
'Unfortunately, in a long and occasionally difficult meeting we failed to reach an agreement. We will continue tomorrow,' Serbian Kosovo Minister Goran Bogdanovic told reporters.
Belgrade media later quoted the KFOR commander Erhard Buehler as saying that he had declared the zones around the contested border crossings, Jarinje and Brnjak in the Serb enclave, a restricted zone.
The peacekeepers have been authorized to open fire on anybody jeopardizing them, others or property, Buehler said. KFOR maintains a stepped up presence throughout the north.
Earlier Thursday, the Kosovo parliament backed Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's measures aimed at asserting the government's authority over the north and passed a resolution ordering the government to exercise its authority over the whole country, in line with the constitution.
Several legislators insisted that the Serb enclave cannot be allowed to ignore the government authority, and the leader of the opposition Self-determination Movement, Albin Kurti, called for a state of emergency and an end to ongoing talks with Serbia.
Kosovo was a Serbian province with an Albanian majority until it declared independence in 2008. But the government remains unable to assert control in the northernmost section, where the Serbs dominate.
Kosovo Serbs have had political and financial support from Belgrade and have often resorted to violence whenever the pressure on them to submit to authority has increased.
When Kosovo police moved to assume control over Jarinje and Brnjak, a policeman was killed and a crowd of Serbs destroyed one of the crossings.
In Belgrade, the pro-Western President Boris Tadic distanced himself from 'extremist hooligans,' but Thaci insisted that Belgrade was behind the violence in the north.
The Serb nationalist opposition accused the authorities in the mostly Albanian Kosovo of provoking the conflict and of KFOR for siding with them.
The area was calm but tense through Thursday, with KFOR controlling the Jarinje border checkpoint that was burned down, and the other crossing at Brnjak.
KFOR and police of the European Union's law enforcement mission, EULEX, said they had stepped up their presence in the north.
The United Nations Security Council was due to meet on the situation in Kosovo later Thursday at Serbia's request.
At the UN, Serbia has Russia for an ally and could also possibly count on the support of China. The United States, France and Britain all recognized Kosovo after it split from Serbia in 2008.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has warned Belgrade and Pristina to 'immediately defuse the tensions.'
'It is the responsibility of both Belgrade and Pristina to immediately defuse the tensions, and restore calm and security for everyone,' she said in a statement.
The violence may disrupt already difficult talks that Belgrade and Pristina have launched under EU auspices, with the aim of resolving problems stemming from their long-standing row.
This is likely to harm Belgrade, as Tadic hopes the EU will formally put Serbia forward as a candidate for membership this year. For this Serbia must move to normalize relations with Kosovo.
Serbian leaders have vowed never to recognize Kosovan independence. Belgrade has politically and financially supported Serbs in the north of Kosovo resisting the authority of Pristina.
In 1998-99, Belgrade's security forces fought ethnic Albanian rebels. The war ended when NATO ousted the Serbian military.
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