PRISTINA (AFP) – NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo blamed Serb leaders on Wednesday for arson attacks on border checkpoints, as Russia turned up the heat on the West for its “illegal” support of Kosovo independence.
Germany and Austria joined the growing rank of nations recognising Kosovo, while Russia and Serbia stepped their diplomatic assault on the breakaway moved.
Two border crossings with Serbia were reopened Wednesday, a day after being set alight by Serbs angered by Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Sunday from Serbia, which angrily rejected the move.
Without naming names, the commander of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), General Xavier Bout de Marnhac, held leaders of Kosovo’s minority Serb community responsible for the incident.
“Some local leaders took a huge responsibility yesterday,” the French general said, adding: “The leaders should think deeply of their responsibility when they trigger this type of demonstration.”
The border crossings at Banja and Jarinje were closed Tuesday after at least 1,000 Serbs from Kosovo and Serbia ransacked and torched both sites.
Hardline Kosovo Serb political leader Milan Ivanovic hit back, calling KFOR “a servant of US interests” and accusing foreign forces of turning “Kosovo into a concentration camp.”
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told the European Parliament foreign affairs committee that “relations between Serbia and certain members of the European Union have been compromised and I don’t see how we can accelerate our efforts towards Europe.”
His closest ally in the fight for the territory, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, continued to lambast Kosovo and the international community from Moscow.
The proclamation of independence, recognised by the United States and major European powers, “is a gross violation of international law. That doesn’t even need to be proven,” he told journalists in Moscow.
He went on to criticise the European Union’s sending a “Rule of Law Mission,” comprising 2,000 officials to train and mentor police, judges and customs officials in Kosovo.
“The European Union is unilaterally sending to Kosovo a mission to uphold the law. There is a bitter irony even in its name — a mission to uphold the law in violation of the supreme law, international law,” Lavrov said.
Along with Germany and Austria, Norway and Latvia also recognised Kosovo on Wednesday, joining Britain and France, as well as the United States and Australia.
In all, 18 EU member states have backed Kosovo’s independence, either formally recognising it or declaring their intention to do so. Cyprus, Romania and Spain have explicitly refused recognition.
Serbia — whose parliament declared the split illegal — is recalling its ambassadors from nations that recognise Kosovo’s independence and its foreign ministry has fired off angry letters of protest to their capitals.
The border crossing attack was the most violent reaction to the unilateral break by Kosovo, and marked the first intervention by KFOR — made up of 17,000 troops from more than 30 countries — since independence.
But Belgrade authorities stepped up preparations for a peaceful “Kosovo is Serbia” rally in the capital on Thursday, which is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Most Serbs bitterly oppose losing Kosovo, which they consider the cradle of their history, culture and Orthodox Christianity.
Overnight in Pristina, revelry broke out for a fourth straight night, again with the honking of car horns, euphoric flag-waving and patriotic anthems blaring out of loudspeakers along the streets.
Since their declaration of independence, Kosovo’s lawmakers have pressed on with the mechanics of nation-building, passing legislation to create Kosovo citizenship, passports and a foreign ministry.