Nato peacekeepers closed off roads between Serbia and northern Kosovo and armed UN policemen guarded smoldering border checkpoints on Wednesday, bracing for more protests by Serbs incensed by Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
For three days, Kosovo’s Serbs have shown their anger over Sunday’s declaration by destroying UN and Nato property, setting off small bombs and staging noisy rallies.
In Jarnije and Brnjak, protesters used plastic explosives and bulldozers to wreck border checkpoint posts and tipped over metal sheds housing UN customs service offices. They vandalised and torched passport control booths and UN border patrol vehicles.
Serbs planned more protests Wednesday to express their anger at the swift recognition of Kosovo’s independence by world powers including the United States, France – and now Germany.
Nato troops sealed off the northern border, concerned that Serbian militants could cross over to fight in Kosovo.
Serbs make up only a tiny fraction of Kosovo’s two million people, more than 90 per cent of whom are ethnic Albanians. Most of Kosovo’s Serbs live in the north, near the Serbian border.
Kosovo has not been under Belgrade’s control since 1999, when Nato launched airstrikes to halt a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. A UN mission has governed Kosovo since, with more than 16,000 Nato troops and KFOR, a multiethnic force, policing the province.
But Serbia – and Kosovo’s Serbs – refuse to give up Kosovo, a territory Serbs considered the ancient cradle of their state and religion.
Kosovo’s unilateral declaration was widely expected after internationally mediated talks between the two sides failed last year.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, a German official said. President Horst Koehler is preparing a letter to his counterpart in Kosovo formalising recognition and opening diplomatic ties between the countries, the official said.
But some nations – including Russia, China and Spain – back Serbia in rejecting the move as a violation of international law.
In Vienna, a Serbian defense official reiterated that Serbia will not use force to retake Kosovo. But he warned ethnic Albanians against “provocations.”
“What we fear most are armed Albanian groups operating within the region,” Assistant Defense Minister Dusan Spasojevic told reporters after a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation. “But we fully trust ... KFOR troops, that they can maintain stability and protect civilians.”
China said on Wednesday it would send 18 peacekeepers to Kosovo next week, despite its opposition to Kosovo independence.
The European Union on Wednesday formally launched its mission in Kosovo, which is expected have some 1,800 members to help the new nation build its police force and judiciary – a decision Russia sharply criticised on Wednesday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said there was no legal basis for the EU plan and said the mission – which will replace the current UN administration – must be approved by the UN Security Council.
Kosovo Serbs said they will regard the EU mission as an “occupying force” if it deploys in northern Kosovo. (AP)