Monday

17th Jun 2019

EU and Nato sponsor confrontational mission in Kosovo

  • Kosovo border sign. Serb diplomat Stefanovic said: 'If Thaci brings in his own customs officers ... we will probably have a new crisis' (Photo: Destination Europe)

Ethnic Albanian policemen are to return to border crossing points in Serb-controlled north Kosovo at 8am local time on Friday (16 September), despite warnings by Belgrade the move could end in violence.

Francoise Lambert, a spokeswoman for Eulex, the EU police mission in Kosovo, told EUobserver that EU-hatted police and Kosovar Albanian observers will take over from Nato soldiers at the Jarinje, Brnjak and Merdar crossing points to "carry out customs and police operational work".

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"The customs operations at the gates will be conducted by qualified customs experts from Eulex, in the presence of Kosovo customs officers," she said.

The last time Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's men went to the area, in July, it ended in a firefight between Nato soldiers and what are officially called Serb organised crime groups but what many people, including Nato officers, privately believe to be Serbian-backed paramilitaries. One Kosovar Albanian policeman was deliberately killed by a sniper.

"If Thaci brings in his own customs officers, knowing the strong disagreement we have on that, especially in the north, we will probably have a new crisis," a senior Serb diplomat, Borko Stefanovic, told this website in the run-up to Friday.

On Thursday night, Kosovar Serbs had already put up barricades, including piles of sand on the symbolic bridge across the river Iber in the north Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

The head of the Serb Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, the same day called for a holy war against Kosovar Albanians.

"If you are in a situation to shed blood, know why you are doing this. It is not in vain ... it is sacred martyrdom in defence of the holy land. Stay and fight," he said, according to the Associated Press.

For his part, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted in a joint press conference with Thaci in Pristina that Nato soldiers are ready to respond to any attacks.

"Kfor [the Nato mission in Kosovo] troops have to act in self-defence and ... they also have to act if it is necessary to maintain a safe and secure environment," he said.

A defiant Thaci added: "The operational plan [to take over north Kosovo crossing points] enters into force on September 16".

The Pristina-based envoys of the so-called Quint countries, the main sponsors of Kosovo's independence - France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US - also met with Thaci on Thursday to show support.

"The ambassadors urged the government [of Kosovo] to continue its co-operation in order to consolidate Kosovo authority at the gates [into Serbia] gradually and calmly during a transition period," the group said in a written statement.

Eulex and Nato say the deployment of Kosovar Albanian policemen is designed to implement an EU-brokered Kosovo-Serbia customs deal. But Serbia denies that the agreement covers the new police presence.

"The agreement, which has nothing to do with status, is about taking a big step towards the rule of law in Kosovo," Eulex spokeswoman Lambert said.

For their part, the Quint ambassadors made clear that the operation has a deeper meaning. "The ambassadors re-iterated their governments' support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Kosovo, including in the north," their statement said.

Serbia shows sympathy for Kosovo amid EU talks

Serbia has voiced sympathy for the family of an ethnic Albanian policeman killed in north Kosovo. But the gesture of good will comes amid harsh words on the future of the disputed region.

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