NATO takes control of Kosovo border crossings

July 28, 2011 - 6:44 AM
Kosovo Security

A man walks in front of KFOR soldiers and EU police officers who guard the main bridge, one of two bridges between the southern, ethnic Albanian-dominated and the northern, Serb-dominated part of Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, July 28, 2011. A mob of about 200 Serbs hurled firebombs and set ablaze a customs post on Kosovo's northernmost border with Serbia on Wednesday, hours after Kosovo's special police withdrew from the area. NATO responded by sending hundreds of troops in an attempt to quell the violence and came under fire as it did so, NATO spokesman, Cpt. Hans Wichter told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Zveki)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — American and French peacekeepers took control of two customs posts on Kosovo's northern border with Serbia on Thursday after they were attacked by Serbs armed with firebombs, a NATO spokesman said.

Cpt. Hans Wichter said only small vehicles are now being allowed to pass through the outposts because "the infrastructure is heavily damaged" and that each vehicle is being checked for weapons.

A mob of about 200 Serbs attacked the outposts late Wednesday, setting one of them on fire and killing a Kosovo policeman. As the masked Serbs attacked, European Union police on the scene leaped into their cars and fled the area, according to video shown on Serbia's state-run RTS television.

The attack occurred during mounting tension between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs in the area.

It began when Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci ordered special police units to take over the two disputed border posts, which were previously manned by Serb members of the police under EU supervision. Thaci's stated goal was to enforce Kosovo's ban on goods from Serbia in the Serb-run area, which has rejected Kosovo's 2008 secession.

Kosovo police soon declared the operation over and said they were withdrawing from the area Wednesday, but the mob of Serbs attacked the area.

Kosovo blamed Serbia for orchestrating the assault, but Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, said it was conducted by hooligans and he urged Kosovo Serbs to remain calm.

NATO is trying to reach an agreement that would ease tensions between the two sides.

It was the second time that crowds of Serbs have attacked the two border outposts, the first being immediately after Kosovo declared independence three years ago.