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Serbia sends 'provocative' train to Kosovo

Serbian authorities have sent a controversial train to north Kosovo, despite protests from its former province. The Russian-made train is inscribed with words "Kosovo is Serbia" in 21 languages, including Albanian.

Belgrade is considering setting up a regular railway line to the Serbian enclave in Kosovska Mitrovica, said Marko Djuric, head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, on Saturday.

Djuric was speaking at a promotional event for the line, sending off the specially designed train on its first official journey to the former Serbian province. The move sparked outrage in the mostly Albanian-populated Kosovo, as the outside of the cars is painted in Serbian national colors and bears the slogan "Kosovo is Serbian" in 21 languages. 

Inside, the carriage walls display medieval frescos from Serbian-built Christian monasteries in Kosovo, which today is predominantly Muslim.

Serbian official Djuric, however, said that the choice of decor should not be an issue.

"I don't know why anyone would view these images, which are part of the world's cultural heritage, as a provocation," he told reporters.

Frozen conflict

The Russian-made train was set to travel through Serbia and north Kosovo for more than 10 hours, with Djuric's deputy and the director of the Serbian national railway company on board. During the journey, the passengers would be attended by hostesses wearing Serbian national colors.

Belgrade withdrew its army and police from Kosovo after a bloody war in 1999, that ended with the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia. Pristina declared its independence in 2008, backed by the US and most Western countries. Serbia rejects the move and insists that the state is still a part of its territory, with its traditional ally Russia supporting the stance. China also opposes Kosovo's independence.

With the EU mediating in the dispute during recent years, Belgrade and Pristina have managed to sign an accord aimed at normalizing relations. The tensions, however, remain high.

Protests from Pristina

Kosovo State Minister Edita Tahiri, in charge of negotiating with Serbia, urged the EU and the international community to stop the "illegal" train from Belgrade, deeming it a "serious provocation."

"Serbia has a dangerous plan that should worry all of us, Kosovo as well as its international partners," she said on Friday. "This provocation displays the aggressive Serbian policy that jeopardizes the sovereignity and the territorial integrity of Kosovo, and its national security as well."

Serbian authorities aim to test out the new line until the end of February, and subsequently decide if it would enter the regular train schedule.

dj/rc (AP, Beta)