Groups of angry Serbs destroyed checkpoints on the Kosovo-Serbia border in arson attacks on Tuesday, Feb 19, prompting NATO peacekeepers to intervene for the first time since Kosovo's declaration of independence.
UN special forces at a burning check post on the Kosovo-Serbian border
Groups of angry ethnic Serbs set fire to offices at the Jarinje and Banja border crossing stations between Kosovo and Serbia, forcing NATO troops to intervene for the first time since Kosovo declared independence on Sunday, February 17.
Kosovo police manning the post called for help from the NATO
peacekeeping force, KFOR, which said it was stepping in. KFOR forces in the district include French, Danish, Belgian and American units.
There were no reported casualties, and a spokesperson for the 17,000-strong, NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping forces KFOR told the AFP news agency that the incidents were "regrettable."
In the nearby town of Mitrovica, around a thousand ethnic Serbs demonstrated against independence for Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly Albanian. The protestors chanted "Kosovo is Serbia" and marched to a bridge spanning the river that divides Mitrovica's Serbian and Albanian districts.
Along the way, they attacked a NATO vehicle with sticks and stones. Kosovo has been under United Nations administration since 1999, when NATO drove Serbian forces out of the territory.
The EU hopes it can help preserve stability in Kosovo
Amidst the unrest, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana paid a brief visit to Kosovo for discussions with Kosovar President Fatmir Sedjiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
"We are good friends of Kosovo, and Kosovo is good friends with the European Union," said Solana in a brief statement to reporters.
An independent Kosovo would be a potential candidate for accession to the EU -- a very distant prospect, to which Solana also alluded.
"The European perspective of all of the countries of the region is open," Solana said. "The joy that has been shown on the streets of Pristina and all over Kosovo has now to be converted into constructive and positive energy, to move towards the development of society."
The EU is preparing a 2000-strong contingent to take over the UN's duties in Kosovo. Serbia has fiercely rejected the idea of Kosovo becoming a full-fledged nation.
Independence splits world opinion
Angry Serbs destroy and burn UN vehicles
Most Western nations support Kosovo's independence. The United States, Britain and France have all recognized Kosovo as a nation, and most other EU nations, including Germany, are set to follow suit.
But some EU member states with minority separatist movements, most prominently Spain, have rejected the declaration from the Kosovan capital Pristina.
And China and especially Russia oppose the creation of an independent Kosovo. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had talked to his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice by phone about Kosovo on Monday, February 18.
"On our side, we confirmed our principled position on the unacceptability of one-sided acts of Pristina declaring its independence," Lavrov wrote in a brief official statement. "We underlined the dangerous consequences of such a step, fraught as it is with the destruction of the principles of peace and order and international stability, which have been developed over decades."