Czech troops in Kosovo reinforce local police to fend off Serbian rally

The prostes at the border crossing Gate 3 Merdare, photo:

Czech troops stationed in Kosovo as part of the KFOR multinational peace-keeping force, were called in on Thursday to reinforce local police units during a rally held at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo. It was their first call to action in newly independent Kosovo, unsettled by escalating Serbian protests.

Several hundred angry Serbs gathered on Thursday near the Merdare border crossing in north-east Kosovo to protest against the declaration of independence by the former Serbian province. Following the incidents of the previous night when Serbian protesters set two other border crossings on fire, the Czech KFOR troops stationed at a nearby base in Šajkovac were called in to bolster local police units. Lieutenant Colonel Jiří David is the commander of the Czech KFOR contingent.

“Yesterday, at the border crossing Gate 3 Merdare, the Serbs organized a protest of about 100 people. According to Serbian sources, most of them were members of the Serbian Army Veterans Association; the rest were civilian inhabitants of the border areas. I would say the protest was very well organized; they strictly followed the rules of where they could go and where they couldn’t. The protest took about three hours, several tyres were torched; the protesters also threw stones and bottles.”

The Czech Republic has not yet recognized Kosovo but Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told the Czech Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that the country will probably do so in order not to lose influence in the region – provided that the Kosovo government adheres to democratic principles and protects Kosovo’s Serbian minority. Jan Hamáček is an opposition Social Democrat MP and the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I don’t think we have to hurry this. We should wait and observe how the Kosovo government fulfils all the obligation it has committed itself to. I don’t think the Czech Republic will recognize Kosovo soon; my personal estimate is that the Ministry could move in a month or two.”

For the Czech forces in Kosovo, part of the NATO-led multinational task force KFOR, Thursday’s border crossing protest was the first intervention on this scale, with about 60 soldiers deployed at the scene. I asked the commander of the Czech KFOR mission, Lieutenant Colonel Jiří David, if the recognition of Kosovo by the Czech Republic could have any impact on its position inside the former Serbian province.

“I don’t think it would, because the area where the Czech troops operate is ethnically homogenous and it only has a small enclave of ethnic Serbs. This enclave, consisting of eight persons, is located in the area of Sekiraca which is only about 500 metres away from the Serbian border. “

Jiří David says that his troops are ready to seal off the border crossing in the event of any other standoffs. The Czech forces also patrol the area with the Serbian enclave from which no confrontations have so-far been reported.