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Kosovo declares Russian UN staff ‘persona non grata’
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Kosovo declares Russian UN staff ‘persona non grata’

PRISTINA: Kosovo on Friday declared a Russian UN staffer as “persona non grata” after he became part of a diplomatic row when he was detained and injured in a police raid.

Mikhail Krasnoshchekov, a civil affairs officer with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), was arrested on Tuesday alongside others accused of helping obstruct a police crackdown on crime networks in Kosovo´s Serb-dominated north. He was later released and transferred to a hospital in Belgrade, where he was visited by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Kosovo´s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj wrote on Facebook that Krasnoshchekov was expelled for acting “against the constitutional order of Kosovo, universal values, peace and stability.”

In New York, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said UN personnel could not be declared “persona non grata” as they represent the United Nations and not a foreign country. He stressed that UN staff enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

“I would like to note that the doctrine of ´persona non grata´ does not apply to or in respect of United Nations personnel,” Haq told reporters in New York. “We stand by the immunity of our personnel who are on duty.”

According to Kosovo police, the Russian and a local colleague were detained after they used a UNMIK vehicle to form a “barricade” with residents who tried to prevent police from entering the town of Zubin Potok on Tuesday, leading to clashes.

UNMIK, however, insists its staff were “carrying out their duties to monitor and report on the situation”. The UN mission also expressed concern that Kosovo police applied excessive force against their staff.

Russia´s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the “absolutely unacceptable behaviour” towards its citizen, “which can in no way be justified,” according to Russia´s RIA Novosti agency.

Belgrade, meanwhile, has framed the raids in Kosovo´s mainly Serb communities as a provocation by its former war foe. The neighbours still have a fraught relationship two decades after Kosovo broke away in a guerilla conflict.

Belgrade — and its key ally Moscow — do not recognise the independence Kosovo declared in 2008 with backing from the US and other Western powers. Attempts to normalise their ties through EU-led talks have faltered for years, with frequent diplomatic clashes derailing progress.

The police operation on Tuesday led to the arrests of dozens of people — including more than 20 police officers and four customs officials — accused of crimes like smuggling goods and bribery in the border region. Kosovo, whose 1.8 million population is mainly ethnic Albanian, is also home to a minority of some 120,000 Serbs, many of whom still consider themselves loyal to Belgrade.