Kosovo Serb police rebel, hand in guns and badges
( Reuter )- More than 100 Serb police officers in Kosovo turned in their weapons, radios and badges in Saturday in a deepening rebellion against the ethnic Albanian majority's declaration of independence from Serbia.
The officers stationed in central Kosovo followed more than 100 others in the eastern Gnjilane region in being suspended for 48 hours from the Kosovo police service (KPS) after rejecting the Albanian-dominated command in Pristina.
Hundreds of Kosovo Serb police officers are demanding they report only to the U.N. police force in the country, which formally split from Serbia on February 17 with the support of the major Western powers.
Backed by Russia, Serbia rejects Kosovo's secession and is instructing the new country's 120,000 remaining Serbs to do the same, worsening the ethnic divide and raising fears Kosovo is heading for de facto partition.
"We don't know what's going to happen next," said Serb officer Nebojsa Mirkovic in the monastery town of Gracanica. "We've given them our guns, radios etc. The uniforms stay."
Around 700 Serbs serve in the 7,000-strong KPS, created by the United Nations after taking over Serbia's then province with the end of the 1998-99 war and pullout of Serb forces.
The European Union is taking over policing and supervision of the new country, but faces a challenge to impose its rule in Serb areas, notably the north where Serbs dominate. Serb officers in the north already report only to the U.N. force.
The EU's Kosovo envoy, Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith, accused Serbia on Friday of trying to sever ties between the 90-percent Albanian majority and minority Serbs, a move he said was "coming very close" to a bid for partition.
Besides the police coming under strain, border posts in the north have also been attacked and Serbs are trying to take control of the main U.N. court in the north by preventing its Albanian staff from working.
The Kosovo police said Albanian officers would patrol Serb areas in the absence of their Serb colleagues.
"We have enough Albanian police officers who have worked in these areas before," said spokesman Veton Elshani. "They will patrol in cooperation with U.N. police, and if necessary with KFOR as well."
KFOR is the 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force in Kosovo.
Serbia lost control over its then southern province in 1999, after NATO bombed to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanian civilians by Serb forces in a two-year war against separatist guerrillas.