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6 Feb, 2009 10:56

Serbs protest Kosovo's new army

Serbs protest Kosovo's new army

Hundred of Serbs blocked a road in northern Kosovo on Thursday to protest against the creation of a new NATO-trained Kosovo security force.

The protesters used trucks to block the road at two customs points on the road connecting Kosovo to Serbia, which the European Union re-opened earlier in the week.

The Kosovo Serbs, a minority in the region, worry that the formation of the 2,500-strong Kosovo Security Force, and the EU presence, will further deteriorate their security.

The European Union, which has called for the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, re-opened the customs zones earlier this week. A year ago, after Kosovo formally declared its independence from Serbia, the zones had been burned down.

The protesters said they cannot allow the EU to run customs considering the EU's support of an independent Albanian dominated Kosovo.

“People are ready to use all democratic means to fight against the despotism of the international powers and the Albanian extremists,” Slavisa Risitc said, mayor of Serb populated Zubin Potok, at one of the customs points.

At the other crossing, the mayor of Leposavic asked Serb authorities for their help in the fight.

“This is the only way for us to preserve this territory as part of Serbia and stay in our homes,” mayor Jovan Miladinovic said.

Belgrade has never recognized the independence of Kosovo, and the Serbian government strongly disagreed with the formation of the new Kosovo force.

Serbian president Boris Tadic called the force “an illegal paramilitary formation” and said it should be disbanded.

“The so-called Kosovo Security Force represents a clear threat to the security of my country. Its existence and activities, current and future, represent direct danger to the peace and stability of the Western Balkans.”

Belgrade says it is willing to discuss the Kosovo situation with UNMIK, who they see as the only legitimate authority in Kosovo.

“We are always ready to speak with the legitimate representatives of the Kosovo Albanians about all key, daily life issues concerning not only Albanians, but also Serbs and other non-Albanians who live in Kosovo. But these issues must not question Serbia's territorial integrity and sovereignty,” president Tadic said.

However, UNMIK's mission expired on December 9.

The European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), which is now active in the region and supported by the Albanians, is unwelcomed by Serbs, many of whom say that their security situation has worsened since the arrival of EULEX. Together with the formation of the new security force, tensions between Pristina and Belgrade look to stay tight.

“We are now in a particular phase of Serbian-Albanian conflicts,” Tadic said. “Serbia doesn’t wish for any harm to come to Albanians, we want sustainable, good interethnic relations, but they have to be set in a way that would not put in jeopardy Serbia’s legitimate state interests and our country’s integrity.”

The new security force was formed from the now-disbanded Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought Serbia in the late 90s. The new force is to be trained by British NATO officers stationed in Kosovo.