February 23, 2008 / 12:07 AM / 12 years ago

EU asks Serbs to cooperate, leaves north Kosovo

PRISTINA (Reuters) - The European Union’s envoy in Kosovo appealed to Serbs for cooperation on the sixth day of protests against the declaration of independence by Serbia’s former province.

Serb riot police stand in front of the damaged facade of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade February 23, 2008. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Pieter Feith confirmed on Saturday his mission had moved its staff from the Serb stronghold of north Mitrovica. An international official told Reuters on Friday the small EU team had been relocated a week ago due to security concerns.

Mobs stormed the U.S. embassy in Belgrade on Thursday, after hundreds of Serbs burned down two border posts in north Kosovo in response to the secession. British, German, Croatian and Turkish missions were also attacked.

A senior Serb minister blamed Washington for the violence.

“The U.S. is the major culprit for all troubles since February 17,” Serb Minister for Kosovo Slobodan Samardzic told the state news agency Tanjug. “The root of violence is the violation of international law.”

Feith, the EU’s new civilian representative in Kosovo, urged the Serb minority to accept political facts.

“I would like to appeal to the Serb community to be generous and to turn the page and look forward to working together with us,” Feith told reporters in the southern town of Prizren.

“We have temporarily brought back our personnel but we will maintain our office in the north. We hope that conditions will soon allow us to resume our activities.”

The EU’s sub-office stands empty and locked in Mitrovica where several thousand Serbs rallied on Saturday. Riot police guarded the main bridge that leads to the Albanian south side of the town.

The 2,000-strong EU rule of law mission is taking over supervision of Kosovo from the United Nations following Pristina’s declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday.

RELIGIOUS HEARTLAND

The United States and major EU powers have recognized the new country to the fury of Belgrade. The U.S. State Department has said family members and non-core personnel from the Belgrade mission will be relocated until security improves.

Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombed to drive out Serb forces to halt the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians in a two-year war against rebels.

The EU faces a challenge to impose its authority in the north where Serbs backed by Belgrade and Russia have served notice the mission will be treated as “occupiers”.

The violence has fuelled Albanian fears that Kosovo could be heading for partition.

Hundreds of Serbs - including many bussed in from Serbia - burned down two border posts in the north on Tuesday, forcing NATO to intervene, evacuate U.N. staff and shut down the border.

Slideshow (6 Images)

The north is home to just under half of Kosovo’s 120,000 remaining Serbs, the rest living in scattered enclaves guarded by a 16,000-strong NATO peace force.

Many Serbs regard Kosovo as their religious heartland, steeped in myth and rich in Orthodox Christian heritage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favored successor, first deputy prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, was due in Belgrade on Monday to meet officials.

Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Robert Woodward

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