Talks delayed as violence flares in northern Kosovo

EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina were delayed Tuesday after the latest surge of violence on the disputed Serbia-Kosovo border left four NATO troops and six Serb protesters wounded. "Due to the tension the dialogue has been delayed until tomorrow (Wednesday)," an EU diplomat said in Brussels. Kai Gudenoge, deputy spokesman of the NATO-led KFOR force, told AFP that "four KFOR soldiers are wounded by a pipe bomb (an improvised explosive device). One of them badly and three slightly." He added that the seriously injured soldier was medivaced for treatment. A manager of nearby Kosovska Mitrovica's hospital told local media that six Serb protesters who clashed with KFOR at the disputed Jarinje border post were seriously injured by gunfire. The situation around Jarinje was calm but tense after the incident and sporadic gunfire could still be heard, an AFP correspondent reported. KFOR spokesman Ralph Adametz said late Tuesday that the situation "is currently tense but under control". "Acts such as these, whether by individuals or groups, are a serious threat to the safety," Adametz told reporters. In Brussels, the European Union called for the removal of barricades and condemned the violence. "The EU supports the removal of the barricades. These barricades restrict freedom of movement and should be removed," said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. An EU diplomat said the two delegations were likely to hold bilateral talks in Brussels through the evening with EU facilitator Robert Cooper in a bid to defuse the tension ahead of Wednesday's resumption of the dialogue. Earlier Serbia's chief negotiator in the talks, Borko Stefanovic, blamed KFOR for any impact the latest violence might have on the talks. "This is being done with the goal of getting Serbia to give up the dialogue and then accusing it of not wanting peaceful solutions," Stefanovic said. The talks, the seventh round this year, aim to resolve practical problems caused by Serbia's refusal to recognise Kosovo's independence, unilaterally declared in 2008. The Serb majority in the north, while the rest of Kosovo is predominantly ethnic Albanian, refuse to recognise the government in Pristina and still consider themselves to be part of Serbia, which makes control of the border a key issue. Serbian President Boris Tadic urged both sides to show restraint and called for a dialogue to maintain. "The international forces are here to defend unarmed people and not to clash with them, I call on KFOR to exercise maximum restraint," Tadic said in a statement. The unrest started brewing early Tuesday as KFOR moved to dismantle one of the main roadblocks near Jarinje. After some skirmishes, the Serb protesters moved to erect a new barricade nearby, blocked several KFOR trucks and started pelting the soldiers with stones. The troops hit back firing tear gas into the crowd and rubber bullets. "They (Serbs) threw stones on German soldiers. One soldier was hit and the troops were forced to fire non lethal rounds in self-defence," deputy spokesman Gudenoge said. This in turn provoked the Serbs at the barricades who approached the KFOR positions and threw explosives, severely wounding one soldier. Adametz later said that a "civilian vehicle attempted to force the gate" at Jarinje and one KFOR soldier "was injured by the vehicle" while the unit tried to stop it. "During the incident, an attempt was made to seize the soldier's weapon and, after a verbal warning, a KFOR soldier fired a shot, injuring the civilian attempting to steal the weapon," he said. Nicholas Hawton of the EU rule of law mission said "violence against KFOR or EULEX is not acceptable". "It is important that everyone shows restraint and acts responsibly," Hawton said, adding that EULEX was planning to launch an ivestigation into the incident. Last Friday, Kosovo police and EULEX officials took control of the two crossings. Fearing this would limit their access to Serbia, Serbs in northern Kosovo responded by erecting a dozen barricades to block traffic to and from the posts. By stationing Kosovo police and customs officials on the northern crossings, Pristina is trying to assert its authority on the north. The latest tensions follow violent clashes that took place in late July when Serb protesters confronted Kosovo police who tried to take control of the border posts to enforce a trade ban with Serbia. by Tanja Vujisic (c) 2011 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Sep 27, 2011