Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Kosovo Serbs block EU-run trial

By Helen Fawkes
BBC News, Belgrade

EU police outside court in Mitrovica, December 2008
Serbs object to the presence of the EU in Mitrovica

Kosovo Serb protesters have prevented a panel of judges from the European Union from starting a criminal trial in the Serb-dominated north.

The judges were stopped from entering the courtroom in the town of Mitrovica by around 100 people on Monday.

The judges are part of a police and justice mission deployed by the EU to work alongside Kosovo authorities to strengthen the rule of law and order.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia last year.

Serbia and Kosovo's Serbs, however, do not recognise its independence and oppose the EU's Eulex mission, which took over from the United Nations in December.

Monday was supposed to be the first day of the first trial held by EU judges in Kosovo's Serb-dominated north since Eulex's deployment.

The three judges had been due to hear a 2007 robbery case involving two local Serbs.

But their passage was blocked and the case was indefinitely postponed due to security concerns.

A year ago, the court was the scene of clashes which led to a UN policeman being shot dead.

Many of the protesters on Monday included Kosovo Serb judges and prosecutors. They said that EU judges would only be allowed to hold trials under the auspices of the United Nations.

The government in Belgrade, not the Kosovo authorities, remain firmly in charge of the Serb-dominated north.

This latest incident demonstrates the challenges faced by the EU mission in attempting to operate across the whole of Kosovo.

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