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NATO troops seal Kosovo border

Latest update : 2008-02-20

NATO peacekeepers sealed Kosovo's northern borders after Serb demonstrators set border posts ablaze in protest at Kosovo's independence. EU's top diplomat Javier Solana arrived in Pristina on Tuesday. (Report: F. Berruyer)

Diplomatic tensions over Kosovo's independence intensified Wednesday, as NATO peacekeepers sealed two border crossings with Serbia for 24 hours after they are torched by angry Serbs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the United States that Kosovo's break from Serbia was "dangerous" for the world, but US President George W. Bush insisted the move would bring peace.

Serbia, meanwhile, announced a peaceful demonstration would be held in Belgrade on Thursday to protest Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Despite the rising tensions, Kosovo lawmakers pressed on with the mechanics of nation-building, passing legislation to create Kosovo citizenship, passports and a foreign ministry.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana became the first top international figure to visit since independence was proclaimed on Sunday, flying into the capital Pristina for the day to see Kosovo leaders.

The European Union member states remain divided over the issue.

The arson attack on Tuesday by hundreds of Serbs was the most violent reaction to the unilateral break from Belgrade in Kosovo, which has been formally recognised by the United States and major European powers.

At least 1,000 Kosovo Serbs plus 150 from Serbia ransacked and torched the Banja and Jarinje border crossing points before fleeing.

"We couldn't do anything. We just moved away, as there were only a few of us compared with the group of very angry Serbs," a Kosovo Serb policeman at the scene told AFP.

Kosovo Police Service spokesman Veton Elshani said there were no casualties, as the NATO-led peacekeeping Kosovo Force (KFOR) rushed troops to both sites in their first intervention since independence was declared.

The UN interim mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) -- which has run Kosovo since a NATO air war in 1999 wrested control of the province from Belgrade, and which remains in charge of border controls -- later announced that, at its request, KFOR has sealed the two crossings for 24 hours.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi, who fought Serbian security forces a decade ago as commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, said: "Everything is under the control of NATO, Kosovo and UNMIK."

"These were isolated incidents that will not undermine the greatness of the dignified celebrations of independence by the citizens of Kosovo," he added.

Indeed, revelry broke out for a fourth straight night in Pristina on Tuesday, again with the honking of car horns, euphoric flag-waving and patriotic anthems blaring out of loudspeakers along the streets.

Serbian President Boris Tadic meanwhile appealed for calm, ahead of Thursday's rally in Belgrade.

"There must be no violence and endangering of human lives," he said.

"Only peace and reasonable moves give us the right to defend our Kosovo with arguments."

Serbia's parliament has already declared the split illegal.

Belgrade has recalled its ambassadors from those countries that recognised Kosovo's independence. Its foreign ministry on Tuesday sent protest letters to the countries concerned.

Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic also met with the Spanish ambassador to thank Spain for its "principled and resolute stance" not to recognise Kosovo's independence, said a foreign ministry statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Kosovo's independence bid was "unacceptable" and "dangerous," an official statement said.

"The dangerous consequences were underlined of such a move, which is fraught with dangers for the foundations of world order and international stability formed over the course of decades," the foreign ministry in Moscow said.

Russia has been Serbia's main partner in opposing Kosovo's independence.

But President Bush told reporters: "History will prove this to be a correct move, to bring peace to the Balkans.

"This strategy has been a long time coming," Bush said in Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam where he is visiting as part of a tour of African nations.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said they would not be recalling their ambassador from Serbia despite Belgrade's decision to withdraw its envoy from Washington.

US ambassador Cameron Munter was "on the job, doing a fine job" and would stay put in Belgrade, he said.

Date created : 2008-02-20