Border violence mars Kosovo's new start

Border violence mars Kosovo's new start

(Reuter)- U.N. police pulled out of a Kosovan border post that was destroyed on Tuesday by Serbs who vow never to submit to the authority of Kosovo's Albanian government and its Western backers.

Danish troops of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force later moved up to secure the border with Serbia proper, KFOR said. It did not say if they were controlling entry to Kosovo.

Kosovan Prime Minister Hashim Thaci played down the attacks on two border posts in the north, one of which was burned out.

"Everything is under the control of the NATO authorities, Kosovo police and the United Nations, and no isolated incident will undermine Kosovo's independence celebrations," he told a news conference with EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.

"Kosovo is integral, inseparable and Kosovo territory is guaranteed and recognized internationally," said Thaci, who declared the southern Serbian province independent on Sunday despite Serbia's adamant opposition.

Reuters witnesses saw U.N. police destroy official documents and remove computers from the half-wrecked border post, then leave in a convoy of vehicles escorted by armored cars.

The crossing known as Gate 3-1, north of Zubin Potok town, was abandoned. Cars wit no number plates were passing unimpeded.

A U.N. source who checked later said he saw only one jeep with two Estonian soldiers on the actual border.

Asked if the European Union would be ready to call on NATO to enforce the authority of its planned post-independence law-enforcement mission in Kosovo, including the northern Serb stronghold, Solana said the 2,000-man mission was not there yet.

"Don't ask for the mission to do something today they are not in a position to do," he said. "I would like to say that it will be deployed in the territory of Kosovo, in all of Kosovo."

"KFOR is here and KFOR has used its responsibility, its obligations, already today," Solana added.

The NATO-led, 35-nation force of 17,000 troops has French, Belgian, U.S. and Danish soldiers deployed in the north.

The border post vandalism highlighted the challenge facing a EU as its moves in to take over from the United Nations the task of supervising Kosovo.

Until 1999, this was an unmarked Serbian provincial border. Until last week, it was a U.N.-supervised crossing. Now it is an international frontier, at least for states recognizing Kosovo.

Serbia has said it will not let a new frontier separate Serb from Serb. Its ally Russia has no troops in the Balkans but has promised to oppose Kosovo's "illegitimate" independence.

FLAG RUMOUR

A Serb journalist told the BBC the attacks were triggered by rumors Kosovo's new flag was about to be raised at the posts.

It was not clear if U.N. police and Kosovo Customs planned to return to restore the border point on Wednesday.

A KFOR spokesman said the attacks seemed "well organized, according to the number of buses we saw moving to the north."

Serbia, which hopes to move closer to the EU, recalled its ambassadors to Washington, Paris and some other countries in protest at recognition of Kosovo announced on Monday by the United States and EU powers but insisted it would not cut ties.

In Vienna, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Belgrade would "fight tooth and nail" to oppose Kosovo, using all means short of military force, but its options are limited.

Current plans include a mass Belgrade protest on Thursday.

Serbs dominate the northwest corner of Kosovo, where the United Nations failed to establish its authority. It took control of the province in 1999 after NATO bombed Serbia to force an end to repression and compel its troops to leave.

Serbian state institutions are well entrenched in the enclave, now with explicit Russian diplomatic backing.

"We'll strongly warn against any attempts at repressive measures should Serbs in Kosovo decide not to comply with this unilateral proclamation of independence," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Sunday.

Jeremic urged KFOR to remain even-handed and protect Serbs in Kosovo, where those in isolated southern enclaves are particularly vulnerable.

U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed independence.

"History will prove this to be a correct move, to bring peace to the Balkans," he said. "We will work with the leaders of Kosovo to carry out a smooth and peaceful transition."

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