Serb leaders in northern Kosovo are calling for the return of Russian peacekeepers, following last week's declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority.

The Serb National Council, a grouping of Serb leaders in the divided northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica issued the call Wednesday. Russia withdrew its troops from the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force in 2003.

Kosovo's 120,000 ethnic Serbs - almost half of whom live near the Serbian border - have rejected the February 17 declaration, as have Russia and Serbia.

In a new sign of a deepening ethnic divide, dozens of Serb officers in the Kosovo police service failed to show up for work Wednesday in the Gnjilane region of eastern Kosovo. Reports from the region say the officers have decided to enforce policies in line with Belgrade's action plan for the territory.

Reuters news agency quotes an unnamed minister in Belgrade as saying the police boycott is part of Serbia's plan to isolate Kosovo and strengthen the Serbian government's grip on Serb areas of the territory.

Separately Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade reopened, nearly a week after demonstrators set fire to part of the facility to protest U.S. backing for Kosovo independence. Workers were still cleaning refuse at the facility, where the charred body of a protester was found after rioters stormed the building February 21.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.