ISSN 2330-717X

Serbs Will ‘Block North’ If Kosovo Takes Control

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By Gordana Andric

As three-way negotiations continue on control of nothern checkpoints, local Serbs threaten to block roads if Kosovo’s government obtains control of two border crossings.

Leaders of the Serb National Council said international criticism would not dissuade them from taking direct action if the Albanian-led Kosovo government tried to take control of border crossings between north Kosovo and Serbia.

Serbs in north Kosovo would “defend their lives and state with democratic and peaceful methods, by gatherings and roadblocks, even if we’re be presented as the devil himself,” Milan Ivanovic, from the Serb National Council, said.

Milanovic said Serbs from north Kosovo would not accept government officials taking control over the two checkpoints in the area.

Kosovo police attempted to seize contriol of two northern border crossings late in July, prompting local Serb protests and intervention by NATO’s KFOR force.

But Kosovo has not backed down. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on September 7 said Kosovo customs officers and border police would be deployed at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings from September 16.

Thaci said the measures were “not be directed against them [Kosovo Serbs] but would rather represent enforcement of the law and the Constitution of Kosovo”.

At the last round of EU-mediated talks on September 5, Belgrade and Pristina reached a deal on custom stamps, allowing Kosovo to resume exports goods to Serbia for the first time since it declared independence in 2008. Prior this deal, Serbia refused to recognise goods marked with Republic of Kosovo custom stamps.

After Serbia and Kosovo failed earlier to reach an agreement on customs in July, Kosovo banned the import of Serbian products and then tried to take control of the two border posts.

After days of clashes between local Serbs, Kosovo police and KFOR, Serbia, Kosovo and KFOR agreed that KFOR troops would be responsible for the border points until September, and possibly later.

An [EU rule of law] EULEX spokesperson, Irina Gudeljevic, told Balkan Insight that negotiations on who would control the northern checkpoints were on-going.

She said that three-way Belgrade, Pristina, EULEX talks on the border posts were an extension of the talks and agreement reached recently in Brussels.

“We are working with Kosovo institutions on control [of the checkpoints],” Gudeljevic said, adding that whether Kosovo custom officers would be deployed there was an open issue.

Serbia’s State Secretary for Kosovo and Metohija, Oliver Ivanovic, said he doubted that Pristina would unilaterally deploy its officers on the northern border.

“I don’t think it will come to that, as they [Kosovo government] were warned not to make unilateral moves,” he said.

“Ashton [EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton] was very clear when she said that such moves are not acceptable,” he added.

Ivanovic said Serbia and local Serbs in north Kosovo were now alert to any moves that Pristina might take to take control.

“Last time, in July, we were surprised, as we didn’t believe that such thing could happen… but now we’ve woken up,” he said.

“We tested our strength with roadblocks and… it is a strength that no one can ignore. Next time there will be 4,000 more people, young people, with a lot of energy. Everyone has to be aware of that,” Ivanovic said.

Only thing we are left to do is to defend our presence, our lives and our state with democratic and peaceful methods, by gatherings and roadblocks. Although we’ll be presented as Satan himself,” says Milan Ivanovic from the Serb National Council.

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Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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