Tear gas fired as Kosovo police arrest Serbian official
Tensions have risen between the two neighbours, who fought a bloody war in the late 1990s.
Kosovo police have fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters as they arrested a Serb official after he was banned from visiting a divided town in northern Kosovo, according to reports.
It is a move likely to inflame tensions between the two foes, who fought a brutal war in 1999.
Serbia’s government quickly announced that the country’s state security council would hold an emergency meeting.
Video footage showed Kosovo policemen in black uniforms with machine guns and body armour leading a handcuffed man from inside a building towards an armoured car. Video also showed a conference room inside the building in northern Mitrovica with chairs and tables upended.
Serbia state TV said that Marko Djuric, the chief Serb negotiator in European Union-led talks between Serbia and Kosovo, was arrested. The action triggered protests and Kosovo police responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades, the report said. Serbian TV said its cameraman was injured and his equipment was destroyed during the incident.
Mr Djuric was later taken out of a police van under tight security in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital.
“The brutal police action is surprising. Maybe they want to provoke a Serbian reaction,” said Milovan Drecun, a ruling Serbian party MP in the parliament.
Friction between Serbia and Kosovo has increased recently as the EU presses for a compromise between the two foes on a number of issues. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade does not recognise the split and is seeking to maintain influence in Kosovo’s north, where most of the country’s Serb minority is located.
Before the reported arrest of the Serb official, Kosovo police had sent reinforcements to stop four senior Serb government officials from visiting Kosovo’s north. However, two of them arrived in the Serb-part of the divided town of Mitrovica later on Monday.
Serbia’s state Tanjug news agency said that Serbia’s defence minister, the chief Serb negotiator, a senior aide of President Aleksandar Vucic and the country’s culture minister were banned from entering Kosovo.
Kosovo foreign minister Behgjet Pacolli had warned on his Facebook page that none of the senior Serb officials had permission to enter Kosovo.
“Whoever enters Kosovo illegally will get arrested!” he wrote.
Kosovo police said that the increased forces in the north are only “implementing the government’s decision and have no other goals”.
Serbia’s culture minister, Vladan Vukosavljevic, said he was stopped just before noon at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, according to the Tanjug news agency. He told the agency the move by the Kosovo authorities was “senseless and wrong”.
Kosovo police said Vukosavljevic had been allowed to enter Kosovo’s territory, but then did not continue, “deciding by himself to turn back to Serbia”.