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New Serbian President Favors Putin, Opposes NATO and Independent Kosovo

10:24 AM, Jun 6, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Seselj is currently under indictment at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2003, Seselj turned himself in at the UN tribunal, and Nikolic took over direction of the SRS. In addition to serving Milosevic and Seselj throughout their period of unimpeded aggression, Nikolic ran three times for the ex-Yugoslav and Serbian presidency, as the hardest-line aspirant.

The Nikolic victory comes at a bad time for Kosovo and the region. The area of Kosovo north of the divided mining town of Mitrovica was once inhabited by a mix of Albanians, Serbs, Slav Muslims, and others, but has been a rallying place for Serbian nationalists since 1999. Some of the latter live in Kosovo while others cross the unmarked and ineffectively-monitored frontier with Serbia. The Serbs have carried on an enduring campaign to expel Albanian residents of the northern enclave, and to prevent control of the border by the ethnic Albanian government in the Kosovo capital, Pristina.

Serbs support “parallel structures” in northern Kosovo – including a separate government and police – in defiance of the international administration in the country, which styles itself the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). Putin’s Russia supplies aid to the Serbs in their northern zone, with regular truck convoys, while Serbian militias blockade traffic and commerce with the rest of Kosovo. NATO troops sealed the Serbia-Kosovo border in 2008 after local Serbs rioted to protest Kosovar independence and burned down customs and immigration posts at two villages, Jarinje and Bernjak, north and west of Mitrovica.

In July 2011, the Kosovo authorities attempted to reassign customs and immigration officials at Jarinje and Bernjak. A Kosovar Albanian border guard, Enver Zymberi, was killed, five others were injured. The Jarinje control station was burned down a second time by a Serbian crowd. Serbian and Kosovar media alike reported that EULEX officials assigned to administer Jarinje had fled when they saw the approach of uniformed, masked men. The border post at Jarinje was retaken by NATO Kosovo Forces (KFOR) troops led by U.S. personnel. As the moderate Pristina daily Express Zeri (Voice) noted, “Rescue Comes from the Americans.”

Through last year, control of the Serbia-Kosovo border posts fluctuated, with EULEX and KFOR attempting to maintain an official Kosovar presence. While barricading roads and assaulting the posts, Serbs also used uncontrolled roads to continue supplying their “parallel structures.” In September 2011, eight Americans and one German were attacked when they shut down one such route.

Northern Kosovo remains unsettled. In April 2012, a bomb planted at an apartment house in Mitrovica killed a Kosovar Albanian, Selver Haradinaj, 38, and injured his wife and four children. On June 1, with Nikolic in office in Serbia and increasingly issuing militant statements against normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, action by NATO soldiers to remove Serb barricades at Zvecane in northern Kosovo resulted in a day of clashes in which the Serbs shot at American-led KFOR troops, who responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.

NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen justified the action by KFOR as self-defense.

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