EU forced to fly forces to Kosovo border crossings

Associated Press
A NATO peacekeeping force helicopter hovers as local Serbs gather at the Jarinje border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. An EU spokesman in Kosovo says helicopters are being used to ferry staff and supplies to border crossings after minority Serbs blocked main road to the tense areas. (AP Photo/Zveki)
.

View gallery

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — European Union police in Kosovo used helicopters to ferry staff sent to take charge of border crossings in the north after minority Serbs blocked main roads in anger over Kosovo's efforts to take over customs posts, an EU official said Friday.

People and supplies were being flown in and out of the border area in the Serb-dominated north, EU rule of law mission spokesman Nicholas Hawton said, but trade is resuming between Kosovo and Serbia for the first time since violent border disputes in July that left a policeman dead.

Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence. Kosovo wants customs officers to push its claim to statehood in the north, but Serbia sees the move as undermining its claim over the territory.

Hawton said three Kosovo officials were present at each of the two northern border crossings, but that the EU mission is technically in charge. "Kosovo police and customs are there in a symbolic capacity," he said.

In Belgrade, the Serbian government urged the Serbs in Kosovo to remain calm and resist provocations, spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic said.

Mihajlovic said "the government is following the situation. It is calm."

Roadblocks remain throughout the Serb-run north, posing a challenge to the 3,000-strong EU mission and the 5,500 NATO-led peacekeepers that are in charge of security.

Both northern crossings remain closed for commercial goods, but Kosovo's trade minister Mimoza Kusari said Serbian goods started entering Kosovo's eastern border with Serbia minutes after the EU mission took over control.

Kosovo authorities instituted the trade ban in July after Serbia refused to recognize the country's customs stamps as part of ongoing EU-mediated talks with Serbia. The embargo was met with violence by minority Serbs who torched a northern border crossing.

NATO peacekeepers intervened to quell the violence and took control of the border crossings as part of a temporary deal. NATO peacekeepers manned the crossings until Friday.

The mission in Kosovo is neutral to Kosovo's 2008 secession because five of its 27 members reject Kosovo's declaration of independence.

___

Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia contributed to this report.

View Comments (62)