Border Violence as Diplomatic Offensive Continues Kosovo Serbs Vent Fury over Independence

Serbia is attempting to plead its case that Kosovo's independence is illegal. Meanwhile, on the ground, Kosovo Serbs seem prepared to use violence to make it clear that they will never accept the authority of the government in Pristina.

Protesters wave after Kosovo Serbs burned down a Serbia-Kosovo border crossing on Tuesday.

Protesters wave after Kosovo Serbs burned down a Serbia-Kosovo border crossing on Tuesday.

Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic is on a diplomatic offensive in Europe to plead Belgrade's case against Kosovo's nascent independence. But with countries queuing up to recognize the fledgling nation -- Germany being the latest to do so on Wednesday morning -- it looks like he is banging his head against a brick wall.

Jeremic is to speak before the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee on Wednesday, a day after he met with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna.

Belgrade's arguments that Kosovo's independence declaration is illegal have been echoed by their principle ally Russia. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the United States that it was dangerous for the world. "We underlined the dangerous consequences of such a step, which threatens the destruction of world order and international stability which have developed over decades," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after Lavrov spoke with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

While the political wrangling continues, on the ground the Kosovo Serbs have been venting their fury. NATO peacekeepers were forced to seal border crossings with Serbia for 24 hours after the border checkpoints were torched by angry Serbs on Tuesday. NATO-led KFOR troops rushed to the border after Kosovo policemen and UN customs officials were overwhelmed by a mob of hundreds of Serbs.

According to the BBC, the violence came after rumours that the brand new Kosovo flag was to be raised on what is now regarded by some states as an international border.

The arson attack was the latest in a series of attacks and protests by Kosovo Serbs who want to remain part of Serbia and who dispute the Kosovo- Albanians' unilateral declaration of independence. The closing off of the border with Serbia is only likely to fan the flames of this anger.

Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, seemed to praise the attacks on Tuesday, telling the B92 TV station: "The custom points were intended to become part of (Kosovo's) state border and we are not going to let that happen."

But Serbia's pro-Western President Boris Tadic called for calm and announced that a peaceful rally would take place in Belgrade on Thursday to protest the independence declaration. "Only peace and reasonable moves give us the right to defend our Kosovo with arguments," he said.

Despite the rising tensions, Kosovo lawmakers are pressing ahead with their nation-building project, passing legislation on Tuesday to create Kosovo citizenship, passports and a foreign ministry.

But the willingness of the Kosovo Serbs to use violence shows the difficult task that will face the EU when its law enforcement mission arrives in Kosovo.

On Tuesday, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana made a visit to Pristina to meet Kosovo's leaders. Asked if the EU would be ready to call on NATO to enforce its authority in Kosovo, Solana responded that the mission wasn’t there yet. "Don’t ask for the mission to do something today they are not in a position to do," he told reporters, adding: "I would like to say that it will be deployed in the territory of Kosovo, all of Kosovo."

On Wednesday the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the planned EU mission, saying that it has no legal basis, and that any mission would need approval from the UN Security Council.

Dusan Reljic, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, says that the EU will have a hard time dealing with the north of Kosovo. "Their legal standing there is flawed at the moment and it will be strongly disputed by the Serbian enclaves," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He predicts that the Serbs could even set up their own institutions in the north, which they would then claim are legitimate according to UN Resolution 1244, which guarantees Serbia's territorial integrity.

Dusan doesn’t see much chance of a peaceful resolution to the problem. "I don't think the government in Pristina can at any point establish any control over the north unless it applies force," he says.



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