A day after NATO said it would send another 700 troops to “keep peace” in North Kosovo, it has ended up inflaming tensions between ethnic-Serb locals and the Albanian-run government.
Last Tuesday, Kosovo sent Albanian policemen to border posts in the north to extend Pristina’s control over the rebellious territory and enforce a trade war with Serbia. Local Serbs fought back, killing one officer. In an effort to calm tensions, NATO took control of the border, prompting Serbs to form roadblocks to prevent the stationing of Albanian police in their territory.
NATO has tried to project an aura of even-handedness, but local Serbs and even officials in Belgrade question their motives after the international troops shut the border down, in effect banning Serbian goods.
“NATO is not taking sides in this crisis. We remain…a neutral actor, providing a safe and secure environment,” said NATO spokesperson Carmen Romero. NATO says the border shut-down is because the unrest makes it impossible to check trucks crossing the border, but Serbs say it is to shore up the regime in Pristina. Serbia warned a cut in cross-border trade could create a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, Interior Minister and former PM Bajram Rexhepi, who ordered the seizure of the border posts, told Der Spiegel that Kosovo’s territory is “inviolable.” This is despite the fact that Kosovo itself is not recognized by most of the world as an independent state, and only split from Serbia in 2008 (after clearing Serbs from some interior areas in a 2004 pogrom). Pristina continues to struggle for power within its territory.
“I have the responsibility and legal obligation to implement [the law] by all necessary and legal means, and across the entire state,” Rexhepi told the German newspaper. Whether this will be possible is yet to be seen.
The European Union, which normally backs the Albanian government of Kosovo, criticized the move to wrest control the north.