PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's special police forces that moved into the country's disputed north overnight to extend the government's writ at borders with Serbia will withdraw as part of a deal between Kosovo and Serbia and mediated by NATO, a spokesman for the military alliance said Tuesday.
The overnight operation by Kosovo's special police units was criticized by the European Union, which is currently mediating normalization talks between the former foes, and is likely to inflame tensions in the region that remains disputed over a decade after the end of Kosovo's war.
Lightly armed special police units in riot gear crossed into the Serb-dominated area and took control of one border post, before being blocked by local Serbs on the way to the other crossing point.
One police officer was wounded during the police operation launched late Monday, said police spokesman Brahim Sadriu.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia has said it will not recognize the new state and Serbs living in Kosovo's north do not recognize Pristina's authority over them.
Kosovo government officials defended the overnight operation as an attempt to restore order in the north.
NATO spokesman Cpt. Hans Wichter said the regular police will assume control of border crossings and more ethnic Albanian officers would be assigned to monitor the crossings alongside Serb members of the force.
The operation follows a decision by Kosovo's authorities to impose a ban on goods coming from Serbia in retaliation for a similar measure imposed by Serbia on Kosovo goods.
The top European Union representative in Kosovo condemned the police action as a unilateral move that increases tensions between Kosovo and Serbia shortly after the 27-member bloc hailed progress in talks between the two sides.
"The operation carried out last night by the Kosovo authorities was not helpful," Fernando Gentilini said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "The EU does not approve it."
Top Kosovo officials have called for more aggressive action in the north. They have blamed an EU rule of law mission, which works alongside the local police force, of being reluctant to face minority Serbs boycotting Pristina's authority.
Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi told local media Tuesday that both crossings are now controlled by Kosovo's police.
The crossings were previously manned by Serb members of the force and loosely supervised by EU police and customs, but mostly shunned orders from Pristina.
Both crossings were set on fire by rioting Serbs on the eve of Kosovo's secession and have since been loosely manned by the 3,000-strong EU mission and Serb member of the local police force. The attacks in 2008 strengthened the ethnic division in the north and gave minority Serbs control of the area that is closely supervised by Belgrade.
- special police forces
- Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi