Kosovo Serbs Set Fire to Border Post After Govt. Police Briefly Seize It

Posted July 27th, 2011 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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A group of Kosovo Serbs has set fire to a border post in the country's north to protest the brief takeover of the site by special police units of the ethnic Albanian government.

Officials in neighboring Serbia and an Associated Press reporter said the minority Serb protesters torched the crossing on Wednesday. Earlier, Kosovo's special police withdrew from that crossing and a second border post after having seized control of them in an operation that began late Monday and continued on Tuesday.

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the fire at the border post. Local Serbs who reject the government's authority tried to block the special police units from reaching the crossings in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

An exchange of fire between the two sides killed one ethnic Albanian policeman. Several other people were wounded in the fighting. The Serb enclave has refused to recognize the government's authority since Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade also rejects that secession.

Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral for the policeman in the village of Dubovc, near the capital Pristina, on Wednesday. Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga was among the mourners.

Kosovo officials said they ordered the pull-out from the border posts because the operation had accomplished its mission of installing government customs officers at the sites. The officials had complained that Serb police who previously ran the contested crossings were ignoring Pristina's recent orders to block imports from neighboring Serbia.

Belgrade accused Pristina of escalating tensions in the region and asked the U.N. Security Council to meet on the issue. The Council agreed to hold closed-door talks on the unrest on Thursday.

The Associated Press quotes a NATO official as saying the commander of the alliance's Kosovo peacekeeping force mediated an agreement to calm the situation in the northern border areas. Under that agreement, the crossings would be run by border and customs officials from Kosovo's ethnic Albanian and Serb communities.

The European Union has criticized Kosovo for not coordinating the border post operation with the international community. E.U.-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia have made little progress in reconciling the two sides. Serbia has banned the entry of goods from Kosovo since 2008.