Serb protesters burn tires on Kosovo border

GATE 3 BORDER POST, Kosovo – Hundreds of Serb army veterans protesting against the independence of Kosovo burned tires and threw stones at Kosovo riot police on Thursday at a border crossing between Serbia and the new republic.

The Kosovo police were backed by Czech troops in riot gear who stood ready to drive back the demonstrators at the Gate 3 crossing, where thick black smoke twirled into the air.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR is determined to prevent a repeat of Tuesday’s destruction of two other Kosovo border posts by Serbs.

The protesters, yelling “Kosovo is Serbia”, dispersed after a one-hour stand-off. No one was hurt.

“Their actions were not aggressive enough for us to intervene,” said a Kosovo police spokesman. “We increased personnel at the other border crossing points with Serbia.”

The Serb veterans are army reservists called up to fight ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo in the 1998-99 counter-insurgency war.

They gathered in the Serbian town of Kursumlija, about 35 km (20 miles) north of the crossing they know as Merdare, and reached the border in a fleet of buses.

KFOR peacekeepers had reinforced security at the post in advance, with armored personnel carriers standing by, as well as two fire engines in case of any attempt to burn down the half dozen temporary buildings, as occurred on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s attacks caught U.N. and Kosovo border officials by surprise and the posts were destroyed and abandoned for several hours until U.S., French and Danish KFOR troops restored control.

The new flag of independent Kosovo has not yet been raised at border posts with Serbia, which has denounced Kosovo’s secession as an illegal act and withdrawn ambassadors from Western powers which recognized it.

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