Serbs try to claim a piece of Kosovo
The Serb-dominated area of Mitrovica is a flash point, and could be lost to Serbia.
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"We are urging calm and to not overreact," said a well-placed EU official in Pristina contacted by phone. "We don't need to fan the flames. But we are being challenged by the difference between what we hope to see [in Mitrovica], and what we are seeing." EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana was in Kosovo, which is said to be Europe's No. 1 security problem, for only a few hours Tuesday. He did not go to Mitrovica.Skip to next paragraph
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Kosovo seeks West's support in Mitrovica
The events appear to challenge what many call a fiction, long maintained by the international community and Kosovar elites: that Mitrovica, a haven of Serb paramilitary and patriots, but deeply desired by Albanians, can easily remain in a new state.
"The reality is that the north is lost to Kosovo, just as Kosovo is lost to Serbia," argues former US diplomat James Hooper, of the International Law and Public Policy Group. "US and European peace facilitators have treated northern Mitrovica and the area north of the Ibar River as a de facto part of Serbia since the NATO war ended in 1999, all the while piously proclaiming the need to maintain Kosovo's territorial integrity."
The patch of north Kosovo around Mitrovica has for years been de facto controlled by Serbs, who run a parallel structure of police and administration. Serb groups are planning to elect a parliament, they say.
The Kosovar Albanians resolutely deny this mineral-rich territory to Serbs. Western diplomats have told the Kosovar government "over and over," according to one Belgrade-based diplomat, that a nonviolent return of Mitrovica is unrealistic.
Skender Hyseni, a cabinet minister in Pristina, told the Monitor last week regarding Mitrovica that "some issues will take time to resolve. We will continue to be patient. It will be easier to deal with the Serb community later."
He added that US officials "have not told us" that Mitrovica is lost, "and I hope they will never tell us that Mitrovica is not part of Kosovo. That would set a dangerous example ... borders of constitutional units can't change."
Torched checkpoints along Serb border
As the Serbs began attacking and unofficially patrolling the Mitrovica borders this week, a 14-vehicle strong contingent of Polish UN riot police and about one dozen French peacekeepers with NATO's Kosovo mission sat two miles south of the torched Jarinje border crossing to Serbia, waiting for orders. They were hemmed in by Serb mobs to the north and south.
A senior UN security official later confirmed that the car and truck convoys from Serbia contained "dozens" of former or current employees of the Serbian interior ministry.
French KFOR troops in one armored personnel carrier on the scene, witnessed by the Monitor, did not stop or search a single vehicle, and in fact retreated south just before the final wave of vehicles passed through the gravel pile. Other French KFOR troops toward Mitrovica could not keep a crowd from massing near a road block the soldiers were trying to build with a bulldozer, though a French soldier fired a warning shot into the air.
In Pristina the atmosphere remains celebratory, with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci playing down the incidents in the north.
"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 press conference with Mr. Solana. Solana added, "KFOR is here and KFOR has used its responsibility, its obligations, already today."