Kosovo Recognition Sees Backlash

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo -- Serbs torched checkpoints between Serbia and Kosovo and set off sporadic explosions Tuesday to protest Kosovo's declaration of independence and international recognition of the new nation.

They set fire to two border crossings that are staffed by UN and Kosovo's multiethnic police and customs service. NATO peacekeepers and Kosovo police did not intervene, but they increased their patrols on the road leading from the tense town of Mitrovica to Serbia as NATO helicopters buzzed overhead after the incidents.

More than a thousand young Kosovo Serbs chanting "Kosovo is Serbia" also marched in Mitrovica to a bridge that spans the Ibar River dividing the town between Serbs and ethnic Albanians, wrecking a NATO car in downtown Mitrovica with sticks and stones on the way.

At the border, protesters tipped over metal sheds housing Kosovo's customs service and sent them sliding down a hill and into a river. Passport control booths were vandalized and set ablaze after more than a thousand Kosovo Serbs marched to the Jarnije and Banja checkpoints some 30 kilometers north of Kosovska Mitrovica.

"We cannot allow the institutions of a nonexistent state to be imposed on us and to pay taxes to some independent Kosovo. That is impossible," said Slavisa Ristic, head of the local Serb municipality.

Veton Elshani, a spokesman for Kosovo's multiethnic police, said, "it was very dangerous and the police had to withdraw and call for help from NATO peacekeepers."

The Mitrovica Serb authorities said they intervened at the border because Albanians were attempting to set up border crossings on the boundary with Serbia. The Serbs called on Belgrade to "urgently take steps" to protect Serbia's territorial integrity and protect its citizens.

Kosovska Mitrovica has been tense since the ethnic Albanian leadership in Pristina declared independence from Serbia on Sunday.

Overnight, three loud explosions shook the town, one damaging several cars near a UN building. Two hand grenades hit deserted and already destroyed homes belonging to ethnic Albanians who fled this Serb stronghold after the 1999 war. A UN vehicle also was torched overnight in a nearby village.

No injuries were reported. Kosovo Serb authorities said they were investigating the bombings.

International recognition of Kosovo's declaration of independence -- led by the United States, Australia and the European Union's biggest powers -- appeared to feed Serbs' anger over a unilateral move the government in Belgrade rejected as illegal.

Russia, China and some EU members also strongly oppose letting Kosovo break away from Serbia over Serbia's objections.

Serbian President Boris Tadic implored the UN Security Council on Monday to intervene.

"The Republic of Serbia will not resort to force," he said. "On the other hand, this arbitrary decision represents a precedent that will cause irreparable damage to the international order."

The council meeting ended without agreement on a resolution or joint statement regarding the status of Kosovo.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was heading to Pristina on Tuesday to meet with President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.