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Kosovo: NATO sends reinforcements amid raising tensions

last update: August 02, 17:30

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Pristina, 2 Aug. (AKI) - NATO's currently 5,000-soldier strong presence in Kosovo will be strengthened in the next few days by a fresh 700-men battalion deployed to help keep a border spat from reaching crisis levels, the military alliance said on Tuesday. The contingent will consist of 550 German and 150 Austrian soldiers, according to German sources.

A conflict broke out last week when Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci sent special police units to take over two border crossings with Serbia to enforce embargo on imports of Serbian goods.

Local Serbs, who make majority population in the north and oppose Kosovo independence declared by the majority Albanians, responded by setting up road blocks and demanded withdrawal of Kosovo police. One Kosovo policeman was killed and several people were wounded in clashes.

Nato's Kosovo Security Force, or KFOR, said in the statement that “Serb sharpshooters and other armed people” have been spotted in the north, adding that they will be “decisively confronted.”

Serbian government negotiator for the crisis, Borko Stefanovic, who has spent several days in northern Kosovo, said he had seen no armed people among local Serbs. “We have seen no armed people, but extremist structures, of course, exist on the part of Pristina as well,” he said.

European Union mediator in the talks, Robert Cooper, talked with Stefanovic on Monday and with Thaci in Pristina on Tuesday, but made no statements. Stefanovic said only that the talks were “very difficult” and would continue.

Serbian officials have accused KFOR and the EU mission in Kosovo (EULEX) of siding with Albanians and helping to implement Kosovo independence, though they should be “status neutral” according to the UN Security Council resolution 1244.

Stefanovic said he was waiting for another meeting with Buehler in northern Kosovo, but added he didn’t know when and where the meeting might take place. Buehler had said earlier it would “depend on the situation”.

“Representatives of the international community, KFOR and EULEX, must remain neutral and not to side with one party as they are doing now by refusing to talk to legitimate representatives of the Republic of Serbia,” prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic said.

He accused KFOR and EULEX of “blocking food convoys, which may lead to a humanitarian catastrophe” in northern Kosovo.


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