EULEX Takes Over Contested Kosovo-Serbia Border Crossings

World | September 16, 2011, Friday // 17:03|  views

A EULEX transport helicopter carrying EULEX customs and police officers landing at the Brnjak crossings, Kosovo, 16 September 2011. EPA/BGNES

The European Union's law-enforcing mission in Kosovo EULEX has assumed control of the two contested border crossings amidst escalating tensions in the volatile ethnic Serbian enclave in the north of the new republic.

The control over the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings has been a bone of contention in the recent months as the ethnic Serbs populating the northern corner of Kosovo have been refusing allegiance to the ethnic-Albanian dominated government in Prishtina.

In addition to the customs officers deployed by EULEX to the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings were officers appointed by the Kosovo government, who were there in a "technical capacity," DPA reported.

The EU welcomed the move as the final step in establishing a central control over Kosovo's borders. "EULEX as of today is starting to implement the agreement that was reached on September 2 in Brussels. This agreement was the last missing piece that we needed to relaunch a proper customs system in Kosovo," foreign policy spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic, is quoted as saying.

The agreement referred to was a deal Serbia and Kosovo reached under EU auspices on custom stamps, paving the way to an end of a trade war.

Kosovo immediately ended the trade ban on Friday and allowed trucks with Serbian goods to enter at Merdare - a crossing east of the Serb enclave, for the first time since July 20 - Beta news agency reported, as cited by DPA.

In Belgrade, however, Deputy Premier Ivica Dacic again said that Serbia never consented to the presence of Kosovo Albanian customs officers in the enclave and described Friday's operation as "abuse of the agreement on customs stamps."

The EULEX and Kosovo personnel arrived in the morning at the border by helicopters, as local Serbs barricaded all main roads into their enclave and virtually fortified the routes leading to the border with gravel, logs, trucks and construction machinery.

In spite of tensions, no incidents were reported, with NATO peacekeepers (KFOR) present at both crossings. Jarinje, which was destroyed in a Serb riot in July when Kosovo tried to send police there, was closed, with KFOR warning that trespassers would be shot.

The Serb enclave in the mostly Albanian Kosovo has been virtually lawless, as Serbs, financially and politically backed by Belgrade, resisted the authority of Pristina.

By losing control over the porous border with Serbia proper and probably facing restrictions after years of unhampered traffic across the borders, the so-called parallel structures of authority in northern Kosovo have suffered a major blow.

"It was a successful start of implementing law and order in that part of the country," Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said after an emergency cabinet session in Pristina.

Kosovo, where Albanians make up 90 per cent of the 2 million inhabitants, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has vowed never to recognize it.

Serbian government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic downplayed the significance of Friday's operation, saying that Belgrade's "institutions" in northern Kosovo continued to function.

"Kosovo police and customs officers play no role whatsoever at those (border) crossings," he said. But Mihajlovic and other officials urged Serbs to remain calm and continue protesting peacefully.

On Thursday, following a call from Serbia's ally Russia, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency debate on Kosovo, but remained divided and, owing to opposition form Western countries, did not condemn the move to assert Kosovo's authority over its borders.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in August that Serbia, which has hoped to be recognized as an EU membership candidate in 2011 and receive a date for the start of accession talks, must stop meddling in northern Kosovo before it can move closer to membership.

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Tags: EULEX, kosovo, Prishtina, Belgrade, Serbia, border crossing, KFOR, Ivica Dacic, Hashim Thaci, Serbs, Northern Kosovo, Kosovska Mitrovica, EU


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