Serbs fomenting violence, says KFOR commander

The chief of the NATO-led peacekeeping force has blamed Serb leaders in Kosovo for attacks on border posts on Tuesday. The crossings re-opened on Wednesday (Story: T. Adamson-Coumbousis & K. Williams).


The commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo on Wednesday blamed minority Serb leaders for attacks on two border posts, after NATO closed part of the frontier with Serbia.

Germany meanwhile joined the growing rank of nations recognizing Kosovo, and Serbia's foreign minister headed to Strasbourg to press Belgrade's unwavering claim to the breakaway province.

The two key border crossings with Serbia were to stay closed for 24 hours after being set alight by Serbs opposed to independence.

Without naming names, the commander of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), General Xavier Bout de Marnhac, held leaders of Kosovo's minority Serb community for the incident.

"Some local leaders took a huge responsibility yesterday," the French general told reporters in Pristina, adding: "The leaders should think deeply of their responsibility when they trigger this type of demonstration."

Germany's widely-expected decision to recognise Kosovo, disclosed by a government source, was taken at a cabinet meeting in Berlin. It makes Germany the third major European Union country to recognise Kosovo after Britain and France.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic was to speak Wednesday before the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Strasbourg, on the heels of a snap visit Tuesday to Pristina by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Solana was the first international figure to visit since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, but the 27-nation European Union remains sharply divided over the issue.

In all, 18 EU member states have backed Kosovo's independence, either formally recognising it or declaring their intention to do so. Three others -- Cyprus, Romania and Spain -- have explicity refused recognition.

Serbia -- whose parliament declared the split illegal -- has recalled its ambassadors from nations that recognised Kosovo's independence and its foreign ministry has fired off angry letters of protest to their capitals.

In another development Wednesday, Russia -- Serbia's strongest international ally -- said the deployment of an EU police and judicial mission intended to smoothen Kosovo's development as a democratic republic had no legal basis.

"The decision to deploy an EU mission to Kosovo... has no kind of legal basis. As is known, preparations to deploy the EU mission have bypassed and are bypassing the United Nations Security Council," its foreign ministry said.

In Pristina, Pieter Feith, who will head the international civilian mission that will oversee Kosovo's independence, signalled that he has begun his mandate as EU special representative to Kosovo.

"The rule of law mission will start deployment during the coming weeks," he added, referring to the 2,000-strong police and judicial team intended to smooth Kosovo's transition to a democratic republic.

"We will be deployed all over the territory of Kosovo," he added, in a clear indication that the mission -- dubbed EULUX -- would be present in minority Serb districts that oppose independence.

The border crossings at Banja and Jarinje remained sealed Wednesday after at least 1,000 Serbs from Kosovo and Serbia ransacked and torched both sites, two days after Kosovo's declaration of independence.

The arson attack was the most violent reaction to the unilateral break by Kosovo, and marked the first intervention by KFOR -- made up of 17,000 troops from more than 30 countries -- since indepedence.

"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 on Tuesday.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Tachi, who fought Serbian security forces a decade ago as commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, said Tuesday: "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.

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

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 appealed for calm and called for a peaceful rally in Belgrade on Thursday to protest Kosovo's independence declaration.

"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."

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