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Northern Kosovo: Serbs make their last stand

Published time: November 26, 2011 00:19
Edited time: November 26, 2011 04:19

A fire burns next to a German KFOR Armoured Personnel Carrier as it guards the border crossing Jarinje between Serbia and northern Kosovo on September 16, 2011 (AFP Photo / SASA DJORDJEVIC)

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Tensions run high on Serbia's border with northern Kosovo, as neither of the conflicting sides is prepared to rule out a further escalation of violence.

­Local Serbs say NATO forces are to blame, for breaking an agreement by trying to remove a barricade blocking the way to one of a number of disputed checkpoints.

The move prompted violent clashes that left dozens injured on both sides.

Last night in Northern Kosovo passed without violence though this does not mean that the source of tensions has disappeared.

On November 23 the NATO’s KFOR forces attempted to remove a barricade put up by ethnic Serbian minority of the region. The resistance was tense so the soldiers used tear gas. More than 20 people were injured but the Serbs got it their way and the KFOR operation was ceased.

RT crew traveled around the area and saw the barricades that have been there for the last four months still up. They are constantly maintained and people there say they are not going to abandon them in any case and in fact are planning to build more of them.

To an untrained eye those barricades seem to be mere piles of rubble, amateurishly constructed. One would never say they could become a cause of armed conflict.

But in order to comprehend why the barricades appeared in the first place, the developments in July in Kosovo must be remembered.

The Serbian minority, that constitutes 10 per cent of the Kosovo population, lost any kind of legal status once Kosovo unilaterally proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008. The Kosovo Serbs still consider themselves the citizens of Serbia. Needless to say that the Kosovo Albanians do not consider Northern Kosovo to be independent and expect Serbs to leave their homes and move to Serbia.

Until July the Serbs in northern Kosovo were allowed a measure of self-independence and an ability to be in free contact with mainland Serbia. But then the official Pristina (Kosovo capital) decided to take the border with Serbia under control, to install customs stations to administrate the goods flow and all the cars and trucks coming into the area.

The Serbs did not see that as a mere formality, but as an infringement of their remaining freedoms. They called it a slippery slope, first comes the customs control – then they become hostages of a political will of Albanian Pristina.

To prevent that from happening they erected barricades.

Then it appeared a compromise was found when it was announced that the customs stations will be controlled not by Albanians, but by KFOR forces.

The only matter is that the Serbs never trusted KFOR, seeing it as a force that conducts NATO policies in the region, making the separation of Kosovo from Serbia possible in the first place and protecting Albanian interests only.

And Serbs have every right to stick to their opinion since KFOR has never been noticed in any sympathies with Serbs.

This time it was exactly the same. Once the tensions run high and an attempt to remove the barricades was made, KFOR opened fire at protestors with live ammunition, later claiming they were using rubber bullets.

But doctors of that region that were treating the wounded – they have seen enough to tell the difference between a rubber bullet wound and a real one. Luckily enough, no one was killed.

In the last decade of November KFOR started another operation to remove the barricades and again the Serbs who were born in Kosovo made a stand, clearly understanding this might be their last one, saying firmly they will not leave their land.