Kosovska Mitrovica, 16 Sept 2011: Kosovo customs officers are moving back into northern Kosovo to take control of the two administrative crossings between Kosovo and Serbia.
(Images by J&M Brandstatter, JB Photography)
The border crossing of Jarinje (administrative crossing #1) and Brnjak (#31) have been in the center of the latest crisis around the Serb enclave in northern Kosovo that broke out at the end of July. On 27 July angry Serbs torched the customs buildings at Jarinje and fired at KFOR-troops. As a reaction the Kosovo Force (KFOR) declared a military restricted zone around both crossing points and took over the border checks.
More about the recent history of the crisis can be read in our article ‘Kosovo -Why it is so hard for Serbia to give it up‘.
After weeks of negotiations Kosovo customs officials finally moved north again to take control over the two administrative crossings , together with officers from the EU law enforcement agency EULEX. In anticipation of that move, Serbs have set up road blocks on the way to Jarinje, one on a bridge in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, another one further up the road in Leposavic.
This time the KFOR did not delay its reaction and immediately closed the Jarinje border crossing – effectively closing off the Serbs in northern Kosovo from the outside world – and brought in troops and EULEX officers by helicopter. It is unknown if Pristina’s customs officers have been transported by these helicopters as well.
At this moment it is uncertain what exactly is happening at the Brnjak crossing, it seems that the border is technically open but has been blocked by a Serb-owned lorry.
Serbian President Boris Tadic has warned that the takeover of the border crossings would raise the tensions in Kosovo again and continued, that any deployment of Pristina’s customs officers or security forces would “represent an instant violation of the neutral status” of KFOR and EULEX.
On the other hand, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci blamed Belgrade to be the cause for the crisis by refusing to recognize his country’s independence. Government officials in Pristina have said that the demonstrations in the north of the country are being financed by Belgrade.
A Serbian official called commentators that have said the Serbian army might intervene, “out of their mind” but urged the KFOR to remain neutral while Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic urged the international community during a UN Security Council meeting not to impose a unilateral solution on the Serbs.
(Sources: RFE/RE, Middle East & Balkans News; 16 Sept 2011)