Kosovo Serbs have driven the UN from Mitrovica after defending a courthouse they seized last week. An eruption of hostilities occurred after the UN tried to pry the courthouse from their control, and failed to retake it. Now the newly-independent province faces another civil war, and the UN’s police have lost a great deal of credibility:

UN police were forced to withdraw Monday from the Serbian half of this flashpoint Kosovo town after coming under attack as they stormed a courthouse occupied by Serbs opposed to independence.

More than 20 UN police and at least eight NATO peacekeepers were wounded amid gunfire and a suspected grenade blast after they moved in to regain control of the UN-run tribunal in the northern town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

Kosovo police spokesman Beshim Hoti said an explosion went off when UN police moved to arrest Serbs who had been occupying the building in protest at Kosovo’s declaration of independence a month ago.

“I suppose it was a hand grenade activated in the courthouse yard,” he told AFP from the capital Pristina. Another police spokesman, Veton Elshani, said 25 UN police had been injured.

The UN withdrawal comes as a predictable procession of events following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and its recognition by Western nations. The ethnic Serbs native to Kosovo have threatened a civil war over the issue, and had made that clear during the brief, long-delayed negotiations over the issue. The UN and NATO managed to turn a deaf ear and blind eye to reality and instead encouraged the ethnic Albanian provisional government to resolve the situation for themselves.

Now that the ethnic Serbs have tasted victory in Mitrovica, they will have little reason to stop there. They pushed the UN out of their enclave; next, they’ll challenge NATO. The quick and impulsive decision to recognize Kosovo’s independence will almost certainly create another round of violence in the province, and this time the outside Western powers will wind up being one of the primary belligerents, unless the UN and NATO retreat altogether from the Balkans.

In short, we created a mess with the intervention in Kosovo. That intervention assumed a de facto independent status for the province, and we sat for nine years hoping that the ethnic Serbs would just assume it as well. We have discovered that Balkan memories run much longer than Western attention spans, and that we have managed to repeat the same mistake that the Russians made in imposing its will on Yugoslavia for 40+ years. Unless a power decides to sit on the Balkans for 400 years and put enough of its resources to keep all of the ethnic communities disarmed and quiescent, the best policy may be to have them work it out for themselves — even if that means fighting each other for the next few centuries.

Isolate them, embargo them, or offer to negotiate with them. Just don’t send armies into the Balkans. History shows that it only postpones the inevitable.