'Breakthrough' EU deal greeted by tomato-throwers in Kosovo
Kosovo negotiator Edita Tahiri was greeted by tomato-pelting protesters and riot police at Pristina airport on Saturday (3 September) after coming back from Brussels with an EU-brokered deal on customs stamps.
The unrest forced the deputy prime minister to hide in the airport terminal for over one hour as officers from the Rosu special police unit clashed with activists from the Vetevendosje opposition party outside. The police made 34 arrests and beat people, including two Vetevendosje MPs, with some requiring medical treatment from ambulances on the scene.
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The opposition party attacked Tahiri because it believes the EU and the Kosovo government of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci are preparing to give ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo some form of autonomy in future.
The customs deal is to see Serbia accept Kosovo goods which are labelled with a newly-designed stamp that says 'Customs of Kosovo' but which does not display any state insignia, such as a flag or a coat of arms, according to Kosovo's leading daily, Koha Ditore.
EU diplomat Robert Cooper on Friday in Brussels welcomed the agreement.
"From quite soon, because there still a little bit of process that has to take place before this can be implemented, but quite soon, all Kosovo goods will be able to travel across the border ... That's good for regional trade, that makes the region look more European," Cooper said.
Tahiri called it a "breakthrough".
For his part, Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, on Sunday told press that Kosovo customs officials will still not be allowed to man crossing points in northern Kosovo and that customs income based on the new stamps will not be allowed to go to Pristina.
Radenko Nedeljkovic, the head of Serb enclave's local authorities, put it more bluntly. "I am sure that there will be no Albanian customs officers at the Brnjak and Jarinje crossings. As far as the stamp is concerned, it can be used south of the Ibar River," he said, referring to the river that separates the enclave from Pristina-controlled Kosovo.
The Brussels talks come after Rosu police in July seized control of the border crossing points by force. The operation led to violent reprisals by local Serbs in which one ethnic Albanian policeman was shot in the head and killed. The crossing points are currently under the control of Nato soldiers.
The talks also come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Serbia it will not get EU candidate status in autumn unless it stops support for the Kosovo enclave.
On the flip side of the Vetevendosje concerns, the Serb opposition sees the customs deal as a prelude to giving up control of north Kosovo.
Meanwhile, Cooper's reference to "a little bit of process" masks potentially important problems in terms of implementation - such as how to formulate the status of Kosovo in the documents of origin which need to be attached to any export shipments.