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Serbs start removing barricades in easing of tensions in Kosovo

#Serbs #start #removing #barricades #easing #tensions #Kosovo

The roadblock near the main border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia was removed Thursday, state-run TV said, announcing a move that paves the way to easing of tensions in the volatile region.

Cars and trucks were queueing in front of the border point from the Serbian side where the roadblock was set up, the report said, while Kosovo police confirmed the crossing was officially re-opened.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced removal of the barricades following calls by Washington and Brussels to de-escalate tensions, one of the worst in years in northern Kosovo.

“Barricades will be removed, but the mistrust remains,” Vucic was quoted as saying by the state-run RTS television late Wednesday during his meeting with Kosovo Serb representatives near the border.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after a bitter war in late 1990s.

But Belgrade still refuses to recognise it and encourages Kosovo’s 120,000 ethnic Serbs to defy Pristina’s authority — especially in the north where they make up the majority.

The latest trouble erupted on December 10, when ethnic Serbs put up barricades to protest the arrest of an ex-policeman suspected of being involved in attacks against ethnic Albanian police officers — effectively sealing off traffic on two border crossings.

After the roadblocks were erected, Kosovar police and international peacekeepers were attacked in several shooting incidents, while the Serbian armed forces were put on heightened alert this week.

The European Union and the United States voiced concern over the situation, urged immediate de-escalation and said theyetn re working with both Serbia and Kosovo leaders to seek a political solution to the crisis.

– ‘Feel cheated, abused’ –

On Thursday morning, the situation in northern Kosovo was calm while patrols of NATO-led peacekeepers and the EU’s rule of law mission EULEX were visible, according to an AFP correspondent.

Two trucks used as a roadblock on a bridge in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica were burned overnight, according to an AFP reporter. The cause of the fire was still unknown.

Around a dozen protesters who were still at a barricade in Rudare, near Mitrovica, voiced dissatisfaction with the decision to remove the roadblocks.

“It makes no sense, we fought for rights that were not fulfilled, we feel cheated, abused,” a 25-year-old man, who refused to give his name, told AFP.

“Why did we come to the barricades, if everything ended this way?” asked a 38-year-old protester, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a move that initiated a calming of the situation, a Pristina court ordered Wednesday that the former police officer, whose detention Serbs cited as the main reason for erecting the barricades, be released from prison and placed under house arrest.

Kosovo’s main border crossing with Serbia was closed on Wednesday after dozens of demonstrators on the Serbian side of the border used trucks and tractors to halt traffic leading to it.

Northern Kosovo has been on edge since November when hundreds of ethnic Serb workers in the Kosovo police as well as the judicial branch, including judges and prosecutors, walked off the job.

They were protesting a controversial decision to ban Serbs living in Kosovo from using Belgrade-issued vehicle licence plates — a policy that was eventually scrapped by Pristina.

The mass walkouts created a security vacuum in Kosovo, which Pristina tried to fill by deploying ethnic Albanian police officers in the region.

On Wednesday, Belgrade’s ally Russia voiced support for Serbia and said it was “very closely” following the developments 

Kosovo’s 1.8 million population is predominantly ethnic Albanian.

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