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20 Feb, 2008 18:37

Rioting breaks out on Kosovo-Serbia border

A nationwide protest is planned for Thursday with Serbian students saying they'll stage a rally in Kosovo itself. Meanwhile NATO peacekeepers have re-opened the border with Serbia after closing it earlier in the day following attacks on checkpoints.

The EU is planning to deploy around 2,000 personnel in Kosovo by June. The mission's job will be to reform the police, prisons and judiciary.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the planned EU Mission to Kosovo violates international law. Russia believes the declaration of independence by the province threatens world stability.

“The EU is sending its mission to Kosovo unilaterally, without any decision on behalf of the UN Security council. It is a bitter irony, to put it mildly. The mission to ensure law enforcement is sent to Kosovo thus breaching international law,” Lavrov said.

Two-thirds of the European Union countries have so far recognised the independence of Serbia's province. Countries like Spain and Cyprus have strongly opposed the move.

In Kosovo itself, thousands are demonstrating in the city of Mitrovitsa, where predominantly Serbs live. They're continuing their protests against the declaration of independence.

Large rally planned on Friday

On the Serbian side of Mitrovice, life hasn’t changed much over the past few days. The cafes are full and pedestrians are out on the streets. But wherever you go the conversation is the same

And the question being asked is what to do now that Kosovo’s declared independence.

Each day, at exactly 12:44 thousands of demonstrators gather in the central square. They want to draw attention to the United Nations resolution 1244 that says Kosovo belongs to Serbia and is under international administration.

The students come from all over Serbia. They say their protest is peaceful and dignified
And they refuse to accept a new nationality.

Vuk Mitrovic, vice-president of Independent Student Union, traveled from Belgrade a week ago to organize the events.

“People are coming from all Serbia. We also have lots of international friends coming to protecting no independent Kosovo,” Mitrovic claims.

Viktoria Krstic dropped out of her studies at university in Vienna. She’s come back to her hometown for as long as it takes for Kosovo to remain in Serb hands.

“I think other people will also come here to help – one person, then another person. Then there will be lots of people here,” Krstic said.

More and more people are coming to Mitrovice to do their share in the struggle of one nation’s survival. For now, all of Serbia is united by what they see is the Kosovo tragedy.

Things are normal for now but the mood here could change in a second. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are expected to converge on Belgrade on Thursday before turning their attention here on Friday for the largest rally planned in Kosovo so far.

Rioting on borders

The border with Serbia was closed for the most of the day, following a series of attacks on border posts by Serbs angry at Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Serbia has filed legal charges against Kosovo's President and Prime Minister claiming the self-proclaimed independence is a criminal act.

Serbian truck drivers who two days earlier drove through this area with no problems are now being stopped by well-armed American soldiers defending Pristina’s declaration of independence.

Their message is clear: neither this road nor this country belongs to the Serbs who used to live here.

“I feel very bad. This is Serbian territory and no-one can accept this new border. I think there will be more riots,” said Zoran Stefanovitch, one Serb truck driver who cannot return  home.

The first riots have already begun. Early in the morning crowds came to the border from nearby villages to vent their frustration at the new separation being forced upon them

More than a thousand Serbs ransacked and torched two border crossings

After a few hours NATO sent in their top units. With tanks, tractors and barbed wire they secured the area against any more flare-ups.

For hundreds of years Serbs have been able to travel freely through Kosovo but from Thursday they will need to show passports as they cross into a new country called Kosovo.

“The Americans were planning to occupy our country and now they’re doing it. I feel very sad. Only Russia can help us. They must help us, not just talk,” explained Vlada Petric, another Serb truck driver.

Back in Pristina the Kosovo government is going ahead with setting up their new country. They’ve created a ministry of foreign affairs, passports and new Kosovo citizenship

But 120 kilometers away more foreign tanks and soldiers are being brought in.