U.N.: 'Rock-solid' proof of Serbia's hand in Kosovo violence

Together with a new report from the International Crisis Group, the accusation suggests Belgrade is actively undermining Kosovo's independence.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Mitrovica: UN police returned Wednesday after armed protesters killed one of their members.
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In the wake of this week's violence in Kosovo, the worst since it broke away from Serbia Feb. 17, the United Nations and the International Crisis Group (ICG) have accused Belgrade of actively undermining the newly declared state.

While there have been rumors over the past month of Serbian provocation, these claims suggest a more concrete entrenchment of Belgrade against international efforts to enforce Kosovo's independence.

On Wednesday, the UN accused Serbia of complicity in events leading up to riots earlier this week in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica. After Serb protesters took over a courthouse last week, UN peacekeepers stormed the building Monday, prompting fierce clashes that left an international policeman dead and hundreds of people wounded. During the violence that followed its return to UN control, several members of the Serbian Interior Ministry were arrested.

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Alex Ivanko, the UN mission's chief spokesman, told journalists, "We have rock-solid proof that there were officials of the Ministry of Interior present at the courthouse."

In a follow-up interview with the Monitor, Mr. Ivanko claimed to have evidence that Serbian government representatives crossed illegally into Kosovo ahead of the takeover last week. "They were there when the courthouse was taken by the Serbs, and on Monday several of them were arrested and taken to Pristina," he said.

Serbia has denied that it had any government representatives in the courthouse. "There are no members of the Serbian Interior Ministry in Kosovo's north," Dusan Prorokovic, a senior official in Belgrade's Ministry of Kosovo told a Serbian television station.

But a report published this week by the Brussels-based ICG, a think tank that advocates broader international recognition of Kosovo's independence, says that Serbia "is implementing a sophisticated policy to undermine Kosovo statehood."

To achieve that, the report says, Serbian institutions are being built up in Serb-dominated parts of Kosovo, and Serbs who may be inclined to work with the Kosovo government or the international community are being intimidated into suspending their cooperation. The ICG report also accuses Belgrade of "facilitating violence" in February, when Serbs attacked customs and border posts in the north. Many Serbs believe that Belgrade should have control of Serbian areas of Kosovo, while Pristina insists it has jurisdiction over the entire territory.

The report claims that Serbia is seeking to split Kosovo on ethnic lines, and concludes that Kosovo is in danger of slipping into a "frozen conflict" unless the international community implements a clear plan to prevent Serbia from extending its influence in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, the UN has been redeploying to Serbian part of Mitrovica after the town spent two days under NATO control as peacekeepers restored order. The situation is calm, but there are fears of further violence in the town, particularly surrounding the new EU legal mission that is set to take over from the UN in coming months.

Serbs reject the new mission, because it is premised on Kosovo's independence. They have pledged that the mission's deployment in Serbian areas will be met with fierce opposition. "If it comes we are going to boycott them, a protester in Mitrovica said. "I am afraid that they are not going to be safe."

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