Serbia blames Kosovo for change of status quo in disputed north

By Spencer Kimball

Serbia has said Kosovo wants to create a political fait accompli by trying to seize two border checkpoints with force. Meanwhile, a NATO convoy was unable to reach its soldiers due to a blockade by ethnic Serbs.

Serbian President Boris Tadic accused Kosovo of trying to change the ethnic landscape of the northern region dominated by Serbs, as tensions with the Albanian-dominated government in Pristina continued to simmer after a series of clashes at two border crossings.

The Serbian government had called an emergency session of parliament to address the situation in northern Kosovo, which erupted in violence when Pristina dispatched special police units to seize the border from the ethnic Serb de-facto government.

Tadic said that the police action was a bid by Pristina "to change [the] ethnic structure once they change [the] reality in northern Kosovo."

Serbia's top negotiator with Kosovo, Borko Stefanovic, described the situation in northern Kosovo as "dramatic, almost a state of emergency … or even the brink of a conflict."

Both Stefanovic and Tadic called for a return to the status quo and negotiations to resolve the crisis.

"We are in the region of former Yugoslavia where the wars (in the 1990s) have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives," Tadic said. "I join the majority in the western Balkans that believes peace has no alternative."
NATO troops blocked

A NATO convoy was forced to return to its barracks after ethnic Serbs blocked the roads that lead to the disputed checkpoints. The convoy was on its way to deliver supplies to NATO peacekeepers that had deployed to the border to contain ethnic violence between Serbs and Albanians.

An ethnic Albanian police offer was shot dead in the violence and Serbian nationalists set fire to the border crossings.

"I do have the force to go through and I will have to go through to supply my men," said NATO commander General Erhard Bühler. "This time we have given in… but we shall see about next time."

Serbia's chief negotiator with Kosovo praised the general's decision while warning that violence could erupt again in the future.

"General Bühler made the right decision, not to use force," Stefanovic told Serbian RTS state television. "We have overcome the acute crisis, but this does not mean such situations will not repeat."

Although Serbia has called for a negotiated solution to the crisis, Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has said that Pristina will not let its internal affairs become a subject of discussion.

"We will not negotiate with anyone, we will not make compromises over the security or territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo," Thaci said. "We want good neighborly relations with Serbia, as with other countries in the region, but everybody is the master of his own house."

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 after NATO intervened in 1999 to prevent a crackdown by Belgrade on ethnic Albanians. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence, although it has agreed to negotiate on day-to-day issues.