Friday, 29 July 2011

Violence on Kosovo-Serbian border leaves one dead

77 countries have recognised Kosovo's independence from Serbia

NATO has deployed peacekeepers to the north of Kosovo after clashes broke out on Kosovo's border with Serbia.

Kosovo's government ordered special police forces to take over two border posts in order to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia on the night of Monday 25th July. The post had previously been manned by ethnic Serb police, and Kosovo's government suspected them of turning a blind eye to banned imports.

Serbian nationalists in the region responded immediately, and in violence on Tuesday 26th July, a Kosovar police officer was killed, reportedly with a gunshot to the head. Four others were injured

A group of about 200 Serbian nationalists in Kosovo again attacked the Jarinje border post on Wednesday 27th July. They forced the Kosovar police and customs officers, as well as their EU counterparts, to flee, before burning down the border post.

The attackers also reportedly fired shots at a nearby outpost run by the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). The attackers were described as masked men, armed with axes, clubs, pipes and guns.

NATO said that its troops were able to retake control of both border crossings on Thursday, despite being attacked by Serbs, armed with fire bombs.

NATO has been involved in the region since 1999 when it intervened to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serb forces. It currently has around 6,000 troops stationed in the region, but given the most recent outburst of violence, analysts are questioning whether it is enough.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci defended the move, saying the operation was necessary, and that “it was a concrete step in establishing the rule of law” in Kosovo's volatile north. The operation was called “provocative” by the US and was similarly criticised by the EU.

Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, has an Albanian ethnic majority. Serbia, however, does not recognise its former province as an independent state, and some 60,000 Serbs living in the north of the country are still loyal to Belgrade.

The current border situation has to do with Kosovo's custom stamp. Serbia does not recognise the stamp, fearing that doing so would be tantamount to recognising the country's independence. As such, exports from Kosovo to Serbia are effectively banned.

In retaliation, Kosovo's government recently implemented an import ban on Serbian goods, and seized the border posts in the north to ensure the ban was being enforced.

The UN Security Council held a closed meeting on Thursday 28th July in order to discuss the issue.

Solving the conflict with Kosovo is among the conditions Serbia must meet before it can be considered for EU accession. EU-mediated discussions have been taking place between Kosovo and Serbia, but little progress has been made.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Spiegel, Voice of America

For more information, please see the Menas Borders website, here.

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