26th Jan 2020

EU criticises Kosovo over border stand-off

  • The bridge linking the Albanian and Serb sides of Kosovska Mitrovica (Photo: UNMIK)

The deployment of Kosovo special troops on the Serbian border was "not helpful" and done without consulting the EU or Nato, a commission spokeswoman said after one policeman was seriously injured in crossfire with Serbian protesters.

"We believe the operation by the Kosovo authorities was not helpful. We do not approve it," EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said during a press conference on Tuesday (26 July).

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Kosovo special police troops on Monday night tried to take over control of two border posts in the majority-Serb dominated area, citing a government decision taken last week to block imports from Serbia. This came as a belated reaction to the trade embargo imposed by Belgrade in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence.

The police deployment was met with resistance by the Serbian population, who barricaded access to the checkpoints. A policeman was taken to hospital with severe injuries after gunshots were fired from both sides, Reuters reports.

"This was not done in consultation with either the EU or the international community," Kocijancic said, urging both sides to return to dialogue.

"We believe the situation needs to calm down," she stressed.

Nato peacekeeping troops immediately moved to "defuse" the situation and to "reduce the level of tension," Carmen Romero, a spokeswoman for the military alliance said Tuesday in a separate press briefing.

"It is very important that the situation is solved peacefully," she said, adding that Nato is in close co-ordination with the EU justice mission on the ground (Eulex).

"What is clear is that violence is not the way, and that customs issues must be resolved through dialogue," Romero said.

According to Serbian news agency Tanjug, the situation seemed to have calmed down on Tuesday morning, with both Kfor and Eulex police withdrawing from the bridge at Kosovksa Mitrovica, linking the ethnic-Albanian south to the Serb-dominated north of the town.

Kfor and Eulex forces had closed the bridge late Monday night amid the escalating violence, but traffic was resumed around 5am, Tanjug reports.

The row, deemed as "completely unnecessary" by EU diplomats, is seen as a major setback after the EU had welcomed a recent thaw in Kosovo-Serb relations in June, when Belgrade agreed to recognise travel documents issued by Pristina.

But another round of talks due last week was cancelled by EU mediator Robert Cooper, believing it futile due to the trade row.

In a key move required to start EU membership talks, Serbia last week also extradited Goran Hadzic, the last top commander sought by the international court in the Hague, a month after delivering former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic.

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