Serbs in northern Kosovo will start removing barricades from Thursday

  • Third major border crossing closed on Wednesday
  • Serbs in northern Kosovo resist measures they see as anti-Serb
  • Kosovo declared independence, with Western support, in 2008

MITROVICA, Kosovo, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Kosovo Serbs who have blocked roads in northern Kosovo for 19 days have agreed to start removing barricades from Thursday morning, bowing to calls from the United States and the European Union to defuse tensions.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who met with northern Kosovo Serbs in the Serbian town of Raska, said the process of removing the barricades would begin Thursday morning.

“It’s a long process and it will take time,” Vucic said.

He also added that the United States and the European Union, which are brokering talks between Belgrade and Pristina to resolve outstanding bilateral issues, have guaranteed that none of the Serbs who erected barricades will be prosecuted.

The removal of the barricades should defuse tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

For more than 20 years, Kosovo has been a source of tension between the West, which has supported its independence, and Russia, which supports Serbia in its efforts to block Kosovo’s membership of world organizations, including the United Nations. .

The United States, NATO and the European Union have called for maximum restraint in northern Kosovo, as authorities on Wednesday closed a third border crossing and tensions escalated with local Serbs over its independence in 2008.

NATO’s mission in Kosovo, KFOR, said it supported dialogue between all parties to defuse tensions, which have included Serb roadblocks on major arteries by trucks and other heavy vehicles and clashes violent with the police.

Serbia placed its army on high alert on Monday.

The Kremlin, for its part, denied claims by Kosovo’s interior minister that Russia was influencing Serbia to destabilize Kosovo, saying Serbia was defending the rights of ethnic Serbs.

A former Kosovo Serb policeman, whose arrest sparked violent protests by Kosovo’s Serb minority, has been released and placed under house arrest at the request of the prosecutor’s office, a spokesman told Reuters. word of the Pristina Court of First Instance.

Dejan Pantic was arrested on December 10 for assaulting a police officer on duty. Since then, Serbs in northern Kosovo have exchanged fire with police and erected more than 10 roadblocks, demanding his release.

The court’s decision angered Kosovo government officials, including Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu.

“I don’t know how to understand it and how it is possible that someone accused of such a serious terrorism-related crime is under house arrest,” Haxhiu said.

“I’m very curious to see who the prosecutor is making this request, who the preliminary trial judge is approving it,” Kurti said.

Pantic was one of many Serbs who quit the police and other institutions after Pristina said he would enforce a law forcing Serbs to remove Serb-issued car license plates dating from before the 1998-1999 guerrilla uprising that led to Kosovo’s independence.

Serbs in northern Kosovo, who they believe are still part of Serbia, resist any initiative they consider anti-Serb.

Two border crossings between Serbia and Kosovo were closed on December 10 and a third, the most important for road freight, Merdare, was closed to traffic on Wednesday, disrupting the journeys of Kosovars working elsewhere in Europe to return home for the holidays.

Around 50,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo refuse to recognize the Pristina government or Kosovo’s status as a separate country. They have the support of many Serbs in Serbia and its government.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence with Western support, following a 1998-99 war in which NATO intervened to protect ethnic Albanian citizens.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac, Andrew Heavens, Nick Macfie, Barbara Lewis and Himani Sarkar

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Author: niso

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