North Kosovo calm as Serbs remove most roadblocks

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North Kosovo was calm on Friday after ethnic Serbs dismantled most of the roadblocks leading to the Serbian border, easing tensions in the volatile region.

The main roads leading to two border crossings opened for traffic but the crossing points were still closed, AFP journalists saw.

However, the main crossing between the neighbors opened on Thursday after barricades were dismantled from Serbian side of the Merdare border point.

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The only barricade left standing in northern Kosovo is near the flashpoint city of Mitrovica, where two burnt trucks -- the target of suspected arson -- still block the road.

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

But Belgrade does not recognize 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 after ethnic Serbs in the north erected barricades to protest the arrest of a former policeman suspected of being involved in attacks against ethnic Albanian police officers -- effectively sealing off traffic on two border crossings.

After the roadblocks were set up, Kosovar police and international peacekeepers were attacked in several shooting incidents.

Serbian armed forces were put on heightened alert this week -- sparking fears the unrest would spread in the tense region.

But the Serbs agreed -- some of them reluctantly -- to remove the barricades after Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic urged them to do so, following calls from the United States and EU for de-escalation.

“We listened to the president. We will see what awaits us, we trust him,” 55-year old Radoslava, who refused to give her surname, told AFP.

North Kosovo still faces a security and administrative vacuum as hundreds of ethnic Serbs police officers, mayors, judges and prosecutors -- collectively walked off their jobs in November.

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

Pristina tried to fill the gap by deploying ethnic Albanian police officers to Serb-majority north, a move which only aggravated local Serbs.

“I’m afraid that when the holidays are over, we will be at the barricades again,” 35-year old Milos told AFP.

“We still see policemen with guns.”

Read more:

Kosovo re-opens major border crossing with Serbia, easing standoff

Kosovo to put detained Serb under house arrest, possibly easing tensions

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