Kosovo police escort Marko Djuric, a Serb official, to a police station on Monday in the Kosovo capital Pristina after he was arrested in the northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica. (Visar Kryeziu/Associated Press)
Kosovo police arrested a Serb official after he was found in a divided town in northern Kosovo he was banned from visiting and then fired tear gas and stun grenades at Serb protesters Monday, Serbian state television reported.
It was a move likely to inflame tensions between the two foes, which fought a brutal war in 1999. Serbia's government quickly announced that the country's state security council would hold an emergency meeting in the evening.
Video footage showed Kosovo policemen in black uniforms with machine guns and body armour leading a handcuffed man from inside a building toward 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.
Djuric was later taken out of a police van under tight security in downtown Pristina, Kosovo's capital.
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Kosovo's foreign minister Behgjet Pacolli hailed police for "acting in line with our country's laws" after detaining and then expelling Djuric. Pacolli said that after all the procedures were completed Djuric's deportation out of Kosovo was being carried out.
A man believed to be Marko Djuric, apprehended by Kosovan authorities, gives the thumbs up in an armoured vehicle of Kosovo's police special unit in Pristina on Monday. (Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA-EFE)
Pacolli said Djuric "has been warned several times to respect Kosovo laws, like every citizen should respect the host's laws wherever one may go."
Milovan Drecun, who heads a Serbian parliamentary committee dealing with Kosovo, urged the immediate release of Djuric and condemned the "brutal use of force."
Serbian media said that President Aleksandar Vucic would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the incident. Russia has supported the Serbian claim over its former province of Kosovo. The reports were not immediately confirmed in Moscow.
Friction between Serbia and Kosovo has increased recently as the European Union presses for a compromise between the two foes on a number of issues. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade doesn't recognize the split and is seeking to maintain influence in Kosovo's north, where most of the country's Serb minority is located.
Federica Mogherini of Italy, EU foreign policy chief, called for restraint in Kosovo and Serbia in light of the incident.
Called@avucic&@HashimThaciRKS. I deplore what happened today in#Kosovo.#Djuricnow free on his way back. Need calm & preserve dialogue.
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. But two of them arrived in the Serb part of the divided town of Mitrovica later Monday.
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Serbia's Tanjug state news agency said that Serbia's defence minister as well as the chief Serb negotiator, a senior aide of President Aleksandar Vucic and the country's culture minister were banned from entering Kosovo.
Serb officials earlier said they would hold the visit despite the decision by Kosovo authorities to prohibit their entry. Serb officials must seek official clearance from Kosovo's authorities before any visit.
Kosovo police said that the increased forces in the north are only "implementing the government's decision and have no other goals."
Kosovo police block a road near the northern, Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, on Monday. Serbian state television says Kosovo police have arrested one Serb official and fired tear gas and stun grenades at Serb protesters in northern Kosovo. (Bojan Slavkovic/Associated Press)
Serbia's culture minister, Vladan Vukosavljevic, said he was stopped just before noon at a border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, according to Tanjug. He told the news 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 didn't continue, "deciding by himself to turn back to Serbia."
Tanjug said Vukosavljevic was traveling to Kosovo to visit Serbian Orthodox Church monasteries located there.
"This decision presents a ... huge setback and it does not contribute to the overall situation," Vukosavljevic said.
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Kosovo's border with Serbia is controlled by NATO-led troops since an intervention in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. In January 2017, a Serb promotional train ride, which would have been the first from Belgrade to Kosovo's northern town of Mitrovica since the 1998-99 war, was turned back by Kosovo authorities.
Last week Mogherini invited Vucic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, to a meeting in Brussels to discuss "the preparations of a comprehensive agreement on normalization of relations" and progress in the implementation of past agreements.