Kosovo policeman wounded near Kosovo-Serbia border

July 26, 2011 - 1:29 PM

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A policeman was seriously wounded after an ambush in Kosovo's north as tensions grow with local Serbs, a police official said Tuesday.

The officer was shot and wounded in the head during a firefight near the northern town of Zubin Potok, as the police undertook an operation to extend the authority of the Kosovo government in the Serb-controlled north, Brahim Sadriu said.

The attack adds further tension to already fragile relations between the two former foes.

Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci is to talk to reporters later on Tuesday following the overnight operation that has highlighted lingering differences within international organizations in Kosovo struggling to act together in the country's north.

The International Civilian Office — a body of Western countries, including the United States, that oversee Kosovo's independence — said Pristina is "entitled to take steps to ensure proper administration including border and customs control."

The European Union, meanwhile, said the police action was done unilaterally and it did not approve, while its 3,000-strong rule of law mission was quick to distance itself from the action.

NATO's Kosovo commander, Maj. Gen. Erhard Buehler is leading efforts to resolve the tensions, NATO officials said.

Buehler was believed to have secured a withdrawal of special police units from the two border crossings as part of a deal reached with Kosovo authorities. Pristina denied any deal was reached.

Throughout Tuesday there were reports of shootouts and skirmishes between police and local Serbs, but the claims could not be independently verified.

Another officer was wounded in a grenade attack as Serb demonstrators tried to block the operation launched late Monday, aimed at taking control over the disputed border crossings with Serbia.

Serb officials want Kosovo's ethnic Albanian police to fully withdraw from the Serb-run north and leave Serb members of the force to man the border crossings.

Pristina however wants to assert control over the lawless north and enforce a ban on goods from Serbia to counter years of a similar boycott by Belgrade in response to Kosovo's 2008 secession — which Serbia does not recognize.