Amid escalating conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, a solution to the roadblocks is emerging. President Aleksandar Vucic announced Thursday morning that the Serbs would begin removing the blockade.
Amid escalating conflict in the Balkans between Serbia and Kosovo, the Serbs lifted a 19-day road blockade on Thursday.
Kosovo police confirmed the reopening of the border crossing. The government in Pristina closed it on Wednesday in response to increased barricades on the Serbian side.
Tensions increased with the siege
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic (52) had earlier announced the removal of roadblocks along the border, following calls from the EU and the USA to de-escalate. “Barriers are being lifted, but mistrust is still there,” Vucic said at a meeting Wednesday evening with representatives of the Serb minority in Kosovo, near the border, according to state broadcaster RTS. Three weeks of border blockades have significantly increased tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
Kosovo, which has a majority Albanian population of 1.8 million, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade considers it a breakaway southern Serbian territory. Belgrade is encouraging members of the roughly 120,000-strong Serb minority in northern Kosovo to try to override the government’s authority in Pristina.
According to a journalist from the AFP news agency, the situation in northern Kosovo remained calm on Thursday morning. Patrols by NATO-led peacekeeping forces (KFOR) and the EU mission Eulex were seen. According to an AFP reporter, two trucks that were used as a roadblock on a bridge in the hotspot town of Mitrovica caught fire overnight. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Traffic at the border has come to a standstill
A dozen or so protestors at a blockade in nearby Rudare expressed their displeasure at the decision to remove the roadblocks. “It doesn’t make sense, we fought for rights we didn’t get, we feel betrayed, abused,” said a 25-year-old man, who declined to be named.
A court in Pristina on Wednesday calmed the situation when a former Serbian police officer was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The arrest of a former police officer is believed to have led to roadblocks by hundreds of Kosovo Serbs since 10 December.
Later, traffic was blocked near two border crossings. Soldiers from the Kosovan security forces and the KFOR mission were repeatedly attacked, some with guns. On the one hand, Serbia is an official candidate for EU membership, but on the other hand it is considered Russia’s closest ally in the Western Balkans. Belgrade has condemned Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. But it refuses to join Western sanctions against Moscow. (AFP/chs/kes)
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