Serbs in Kosovo Begin Dismantling Barricades

Posted December 5th, 2011 at 1:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Serbs in northern Kosovo have started to remove some of the roadblocks at the center of recent violent clashes in the tense border region that have left scores of people injured and threaten Serbia's bid for European Union membership.

Local Serbs say the removal of the barricades comes after a deal was made Monday with the NATO-led peacekeeping force. A local Serb leader says the agreement will allow freedom of movement on the road leading to the disputed border crossing with Serbia. The deal also envisions local police forces joining with NATO peacekeepers to set up checkpoints to monitor traffic along the border.

There was no immediate comment from NATO in Kosovo.

The Serbs' blockades have been cutting off NATO access to a military base in northern Kosovo. NATO wants freedom of movement throughout all of Kosovo.

Monday's agreement follows EU-mediated negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo on Friday that resulted in an agreement in principle on “integrated” management of their common border. The plan will guarantee free movement of goods and people.

EU officials say Serbia must find a way to end the unrest on its border with Kosovo if it wants its bid for EU candidacy to move forward. EU leaders are to decide at a summit in Brussels on Friday whether to grant Serbia candidate status.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week said Serbia has contributed to the tense situation in Kosovo and is not yet ready to be a candidate for EU membership.

Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, supported by Belgrade, refuse to recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence. They have been setting up roadblocks since July, when Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government tried to take control of the border area under de-facto Serb rule.