Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Serbia warns Kosovo on disputed border crossings

Serbia has cautioned that attempts by Kosovo to take control of disputed border outposts in northern Kosovo could spark renewed tensions between the two neighbours.

Serbia's President Boris Tadic made the warning on 13th September, calling Kosovo's plan to deploy police and customs officials at the outposts on the Serbian border “the height of irresponsibility and dangerous behaviour” and demanding dialogue with international mediators.

The plan, announced last week by Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, has prompted serious discontent in northern Kosovo, which is mainly populated by ethnic Serbs, unlike the Albanian-majority southern areas. Serb community leaders in northern Kosovo have threatened to block the roads if the government in Pristina attempts to deploy police and border units. The region exists in administrative limbo, within Kosovo's international borders but without much trace of the Albanian-dominated state apparatus.

The rise in tensions follows a summer of border violence, when a previous attempt by the Kosovan government to take control of the outposts was met with violent protests from ethnic Serbs who reject Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. One ethnic Albanian policeman was killed in the rioting, which prompted NATO's peacekeepers to take control of the checkpoints, despite Serb roadblocks.

The most recent war of words comes despite a trade agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, signed on 2nd September, under which the two sides agreed to lift tit-for-tat import embargoes. Thaci's decision to try and regain control of the border, as part of a wider drive to strengthen control over the Serbian north of Kosovo, suggests that the EU-brokered trade deal has led to overconfidence in Pristina.

Redeployment of police units to the border could jeopardise the fragile progress made so far on bilateral trade ties. It would also risk damaging both countries' painstaking path towards EU membership. Brussels has made it clear that a stable and peaceful relationship between Pristina and Belgrade is a prerequisite for either of them to move closer towards full EU membership.

Serbian officials have demanded that international mediators intervene to prevent Kosovo's latest moves. Until the Kosovan government renounces its right to police the border, however, it is unlikely to back down, and a new border confrontation seems increasingly likely.

Sources: Reuters, Voice of America, Bloomberg

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