KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo &
NATO peacekeepers closed off roads between Serbia and northern Kosovo and armed U.N. policemen guarded smoldering border checkpoints today as thousands of Serbs protested Kosovo's independence.
For three days, Kosovo's Serbs have shown their anger over Sunday's declaration of independence by the ethnic Albanian leadership by destroying U.N. and NATO property, setting off small bombs and staging noisy rallies.
Chanting "We won't give up Kosovo," some 3,000 demonstrators marched to a bridge in the tense Serb stronghold of Kosovska Mitrovica diving the two communities. U.N. policemen sealed off the bridge and NATO helicopters hovered overhead.
Protesters expressed their anger over the swift recognition of Kosovo's independence by world powers including the United States, France, Britain &
and now Germany. Some carried the flag of Spain, one EU nation that has refused to recognize Kosovo for fear it will encourage its own pro-independence movements.
After protesters used plastic explosives and bulldozers Tuesday to wreck two checkpoint posts separating Kosovo from Serbia, NATO troops sealed off the northern border out of concerns that Serbian militants could cross over to fight in Kosovo.
Protesters also tipped over metal sheds housing U.N. customs offices, and torched passport control booths and U.N. cars Tuesday.
Kosovo Serb leader Nebojsa Radulovic demanded today that the crossings reopen &
or "the Serbs will continue with the protests, with consequences we cannot predict."
Kosovo's Serbs want the checkpoints removed. They say bread, milk and other basics did not arrive from Serbia today because of the border blockade.
Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, has not been under Belgrade's control since 1999, when NATO launched airstrikes to halt a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. A U.N. mission has governed Kosovo since, with more than 16,000 NATO troops and KFOR, a multiethnic force, policing the province.
But Serbia &
and Kosovo's Serbs, who make up less than 10 percent of Kosovo's population &
refuse to give up Kosovo, a territory considered the ancient cradle of Serbs' state and religion.
Calling Kosovo's independence a necessary step for stability in the region, Germany recognized Kosovo as a new state today and sent its defense minister to Kosovo for an official visit. Austria and Norway also announced that their nations are taking steps to recognize Kosovo's statehood.
But some &
including Russia, China and Spain &
back Serbia in rejecting the move as a violation of international law and a dangerous precedent that could encourage separatists elsewhere.
In Vienna, a Serbian defense official reiterated that Belgrade will not use force to retake Kosovo. But he warned ethnic Albanians against "provocations."
"What we fear most are armed Albanian groups operating within the region," Assistant Defense Secretary Dusan Spasojevic said after a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation. "But we fully trust ... that KFOR troops will protect Serbs."
The European Union today formally launched its 1,800-strong mission in Kosovo to help the new nation build its police force and judiciary &
a decision Russia sharply criticized.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called it illegal for the EU to send a mission to replace the U.N. without U.N. Security Council approval.
"There is bitter irony, to put it mildly, in this name, because the mission will be providing for the rule of law in violation of the highest law &
in violation of international law," Lavrov said in Moscow.
EU special representative Pieter Feith, who will head the Kosovo mission, appealed to Serbs &
who have said they would consider the EU mission an "occupying force" &
to stop their protests and to build Kosovo alongside ethnic Albanians.
"What is important for us is that we invite all of Kosovo's citizens, especially Serbs, to return to and share lives as soon as possible, especially the part of the population that has second thoughts about it," Feith said in Pristina. "Kosovo is one: internationally supported and with a vision for the future."
NATO closes off roads between Kosovo, Serbia
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo &