March 10, 2008 / 6:30 PM / 10 years ago

EU urges U.N. to step up Kosovo-Serbia security

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union urged the U.N. mission in Kosovo on Monday to step up security along the border with Serbia amid fears of a partition of Serb-dominated north Kosovo from the rest of the newly-created country.

EU diplomats said the bloc would call on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ensure that the UNMIK police mission did not slacken in the run-up to an expected handover of duties to an EU-led police and judicial operation there from mid-June.

“There have been attacks on this border, burning of containers and so on, so UNMIK has a very important role to play,” Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said after a meeting in Brussels of EU foreign ministers.

“We have supported the idea that UNMIK continues to work at the border between Serbia and Kosovo and keeps this border in good condition,” Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told a news conference.

“What we want to avoid is a soft partition,” Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters, calling on UNMIK to remain fully functional right up to the handover to the EU.

Backed by Russia, Serbia has rejected the February 17 secession of its former province and is instructing the 120,000 remaining Serbs there to sever ties with the 90 percent Albanian majority, deepening the ethnic divide.

Implicit in the request to Ban is the perception among EU states that UNMIK’s activity has been diminishing since the February 17 declaration of independence by Kosovo, one diplomat said.

“UNMIK must keep up its work,” he said.

The 2,000-plus EU mission will advise Kosovo police and judicial personnel as well as helping the mainly ethnic Albanian state build up its new institutions.

It will also have anti-riot units on standby for potential violence but the EU stresses that the main responsibility for dealing with any serious deterioration of security will remain with the 16,000-strong NATO force.

Reporting by Mark John; editing by Andrew Roche

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