Why EU peacekeepers occupied Serbia-Kosovo border posts

Serbians living in northern Kosovo threatened violent opposition to the deployment, but the Kosovo officials and EU peacekeepers avoided confrontation with protesters.

By , Correspondent

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    Slovenian troops serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo stop in the road that leads to northern Kosovo near the village of Rudare in July. The European Union urged Serbia and Kosovo to reduce tensions after a series of incidents on their border.
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European Union peacekeepers in Kosovo Thursday occupied two border posts along the Serbia-Kosovo border without reigniting simmering tensions in the region.

Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called the action a "successful start" to establishing law and order in the area even though it was widely opposed by the Serbians who make up most of the northern region's population.

Serbia does not accept the declaration of independence made by Kosovo's Albanian government in 2008. As a result, they say that Kosovo is still a part of Serbia, and so there is no justification for border controls.

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Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic warned earlier this week that the proposed action could lead to "new, heavy fighting" and the exodus of the 50,000 Serbs who live northern Kosovo.

But Mr. Dacic's dire predictions did not materialize. Serb protesters, including students from Belgrade, hung signs threatening to attack peacekeepers and erected a five-foot-tall barricade made of earth, bricks, and pallets. But the EU peacekeepers, who came by helicopter, were able to avoid confrontation with the protesters.

The Serbian government in Belgrade urged calm while also sympathizing with the Serbians in the Kosovar north. Serbian Minister to Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic said the deployment was not "D-Day," and that Serbia has seen far worse. His deputy, Oliver Ivanovic, said he had cut contact with EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX).

The fear of violence was due in large part to Kosovo's failed attempt to deploy officials to the posts in late July. That attempt led to clashes between Kosovar special police and local Serbs, in which one police officer was shot dead, four were injured, and a border post was torched.

That unrest was only quelled thanks to the intervention of NATO peacekeeping troops and EU mediators who hammered out a resolution to the long-running trade dispute which sparked the border crisis in late July.

The Kosovo government Thursday also announced it has lifted the embargo it imposed on Serbian imports on July 20, in an effort to ease tensions. Kosovo's attempt to enforce the embargo was the pretext for the failed July border deployment.

But the government told Bloomberg News that border trade would still be limited, as one of the two newly occupied checkpoints, at Jarinje, will be closed to commercial vehicles, while the other, at Brnjak, will only allow goods through which are exempt from excise duties.

EULEX staff will be responsible for all checks at the two reopened border posts, but each post also has "symbolic" Kosovo officials from both Albanian and Serb communities.

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