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20th May 2019

Kosovo violence threatens Serbia's EU bid

  • Dummy barricade at use in a Kfor exercise in Kosovo (Photo: nato.org)

A flare up in violence in north Kosovo has alarmed EU officials as Brussels gets set to rule whether or not Serbia is ready for EU candidate status.

Nato soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas on Tuesday (27 September) at a crowd of Kosovar Serbs who tried to stop them dismantling a barricade near the Jarinje crossing point on the Kosovo-Serbia border. On the other side, live fire and pipe bombs were used against the troops, with 16 civilians and four soldiers injured.

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Nato spokesman Ralph Adametz told press the incident began when "an attempt was made to seize [a] soldier's weapon and after a verbal warning a Kfor soldier fired a shot injuring the civilian attempting to steal the weapon."

Kosovar Serbs also attacked two police vehicles in the town of Mitrovica.

Serbia has responded by cancelling the next round of EU-sponsored talks on day-to-day co-operation with Kosovo. "The talks will not resume until we see what will happen at the two border crossings," its chief negotiator, Borko Stefanovic said on TV.

The 60,000 or so ethnic Serbs who live in north Kosovo reject Pristina's authority.

Nato soldiers and EU diplomats publicly say the territory is run by ethnic Serb organised crime groups whose primary interest is keeping the region in limbo so they can make money on smuggling.

They privately admit the groups get support from Belgrade, however - in July a sniper murdered an ethnic Albanian policeman in the region using what police suspect was a military-grade rifle.

The frozen conflict in north Kosovo helps Serbia to destabilise the partially-recognised country and to hold back its EU integration prospects. But it risks provoking similar problems among ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and Serbia and ethnic Serbs in Bosnia just 10 years after the Balkan Wars.

Speaking to MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said: "I am today as worried about what is happening in the north of Kosovo if not more so [than the Arab-Irsael conflict]." Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt tweeted: "Worried by violence in northern Kosovo. We must [sic] back to diplomacy and cautious confidence-building."

Tuesday's violence comes a few weeks before the EU commission decides whether or not Serbia has done enough to merit getting EU candidate status.

Belgrade earlier this year gave up two top war crimes suspects to The Hague. But its hard line on north Kosovo could see any pro-EU decision hedged with conditions that accession talks will not start until the problem is fully solved, EU diplomats told Reuters on Tuesday.

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