Barricades at Kosovo-Serbia border dismantled

Jarinje (Kosovo) (AFP) –


Kosovo Serbs on Saturday removed vehicles they had positioned to block roads leading to border with Serbia, after Belgrade and Pristina agreed to end a tense deadlock.

The former foes were at loggerheads for nearly two weeks after Kosovo banned cars with Serbian registration plates from entering its territory -- mirroring a years-long Serbian practice against vehicles travelling the other way.

Kosovo dispatched special police units to oversee the ban's implementation, angering local Serbs who blocked the roads leading to the border.

Serbia responded by deploying armoured vehicles close to the frontier and flying fighter jets over the border region which prompted foreign diplomats to press the two sides to calm tensions and prevent further escalation.

According to a European Union-brokered deal struck Thursday in Brussels, Kosovo was to remove the special police by Saturday and the local Serbs to dismantle the barricades.

NATO-led peacekeepers replaced the Kosovo special police that withdrew on Saturday.

The NATO-led peacekeepers from the KFOR mission will be deployed at the border for the next two weeks, according to the deal.

The removal of barricades and tents in which Serb protesters were sleeping at the roads leading to the two border crossings in Kosovo's tense north was carried out without incident, an AFP correspondent reported.

"It's great that it's all over. We showed Pristina that special police have nothing to do here," a 33-year-old ethnic Serb, who identified him as Slavko, told AFP.

"We don't mind KFOR or ordinary police at crossings."

The traffic slowly resumed at the Jarinje crossing with the first trucks that were blocked there for days crossing the border.

In Brussels, the two sides also agreed to put stickers over national symbols on the number plates, a provisional solution until a permanent one is reached.

Both Serbia and Kosovo claimed they had secured the agreement they desired.

The latest row between Serbia and ethnic-Albanian majority Kosovo, that involves the sensitive issue of Kosovo's Serb minority, was the worst in years.

Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a war between independence-seeking ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian forces.

Roughly 100 countries, including most EU members and the US have recognised the move, but not Serbia or its allies China and Russia.

EU-brokered dialogue between the two Balkans neighbours, launched a decade ago, has so far failed to achieve normalisation of their ties.