- Kosovo - police - Serbia - United Nations
Hundreds of Serbs opposed to Kosovo's independence clashed with international police before storming and occupying two UN-run courts here Friday, police said.
Around 300 Serbs of the northern half of Mitrovica "demolished and broke through two entrance gates and entered the buildings of the municipal and district courts, where they took down the UN flag," said a Kosovo police statement.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on a brief visit to Kosovo, condemned the incident he described as "provocation."
"Provocations are unhelpful. They lead to the situations which are unacceptable," Scheffer told reporters in the Kosovo capital Pristina.
He said such acts were "unacceptable and against the United Nations."
"It is an act against the world community and it is against the voice of moderation," he said.
Earlier Friday, elite units of UN police said they tried to force back the "insurgent protestors who placed females and girls" on the front line while pelting police with stones and metal objects.
The protestors occupied the court house, after raising a Serbian flag, while two civilian trucks were parked in the front of the building to block access, police said.
After taking over the courts, the Serbs -- among them many who worked in Kosovo justice institutions before the territory came under the administration of a UN mission (UNMIK) in 1999 -- said they wanted to set up their own court.
"We now want to negotiate with UNMIK about that. The very building of the court does not mean anything without that," said Milan Bigovic, a representative of the protestors.
During his visit to Kosovo, the NATO secretary general visited the northern part of the province, but failed to meet with local Serb leaders.
"Unfortunately the idea I had to talk there to the representatives of the Serb community did not materialize because they did not find the opportunity to talk to me, which I regret very much," he said.
Also in Pristina, the UN administration condemned Friday's attack, saying that those who turned to violence in northern Mitrovica had "crossed one of UNMIK's red lines."
"This is completely unacceptable. I have instructed UNMIK police to restore law and order in the north and to ensure that the court house is again under UN control," said UNMIK chief Joachim Rucker.
The EU presidency in Brussels also condemned the seizure by Serb militants of a UN-run court in northern Kosovo, stressing that no civilians should be harmed.
"The EU Presidency strongly condemns the attacks on and the seizure of the court in Northern Mitrovica. No one benefits from the use of violence and from the attacks on the rule of law institutions in Kosovo," the statement by the European Union's Slovenian presidency said.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders also condemned the attack, with President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci demanding UNMIK and NATO-led peacekeepers "react urgently."
They urged international authorities in Kosovo to "pull the hooligans out of the buildings as well as to provide their permanent protection."
Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17 and has since been recognised by many Western countries. Serbia and Kosovo Serbs vehemently reject the move as illegal.
Two days after the proclamation, angry Kosovo Serbs torched two border crossings with Serbia and have since staged a series of other protests, some of them leading to unrest.
The protests and fears of violence have forced preparatory staff of the EU-led international mission to be moved form the tense north of Kosovo, which is populated by some 40,000 Serbs.