Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetvovic has accused Western powers of bias in the stand-off between ethnic Serbs and Kosovars, which has continued into its ninth night as Serbs blocked two border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo.
Cvetkovic said yesterday (2 August) that Serbia was not responsible for “the new situation” in Serbian-populated northern Kosovo, blaming tensions on the administration in Pristina and international institutions in the former Serbian province.
Since violence erupted on 26 July, two border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo have been blocked by ethnic Serbs. The EU and Western powers have strongly condemned the attacks of both Kosovar and ethnic Serbian forces. The stand-off has its origin in a mutual goods-importation ban between Kosovo and Serbia.
As quoted by the Serbian press, Cvetkovic called on international representatives in Kosovo to start talks with the Serbian government, and said that NATO-led KFOR forces and the EU law enforcement mission EULEX should remain neutral and should not side with any party.
The prime minister said that the refusal of KFOR and EULEX to talk with the legitimate representatives of Serbia and – and the fact that they have halted food convoys – was evidence of bias. This could lead to a humanitarian disaster, he insisted.
KFOR is reported not to allow imports by trucks since it is unable to control their cargoes.
NATO deputy spokesperson Carmen Romero rejected the accusation of bias, according to EurActiv’s Bulgarian partner, Dnevnik. KFOR forces remain neutral, guaranteeing security according to their UN mandate, she added.
Similarly, when asked by EurActiv, Michael Mann, spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said EULEX was unbiased and that EU mediator Robert Cooper was in the region, conveying the same message to both sides is that it critical to return to dialogue and resolve underlying issues without delay.
According to the Serbian website B92, only passenger vehicles are allowed to enter Kosovo at the two blocked crossing points of Jarinje and Brnjak, whilst goods from central Serbia still cannot be delivered to the province.
Belgrade backs the barricades
Another website, EmPortal, claimed that the Serbian Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, yesterday called on his compatriots in northern Kosovo to maintain barricades at the crossing points. “We plead with you to continue showing up in force to demonstrate our will and goals in a peaceful way and not to allow the state of Kosovo to take hold here,” the minister was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile NATO stated that it was sending more troops to reinforce KFOR, following a decision by the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples at the request of the mission’s commander General Erhard Buehler.
A battalion of some 700 soldiers, stationed in NATO bases in Germany, will reportedly be sent to Kosovo, according to Beta, the EurActiv partner agency in Serbia.
A NATO’s spokesperson insisted that the deployment of additional troops should not be interpreted as a sign that the situation in Kosovo was worsening.
In the meantime, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman advised Serbia to act in a way that would help the EU making “soon” a decision on Belgrade’s EU candidacy.