Kosovo Serbs who have been blocking roads for nearly three weeks will dismantle their barricades, Serbia’s president said following calls by Washington and Brussels to de-escalate tensions in the volatile region.
“Barricades will be removed, but the mistrust remains,” Serbian Aleksandar Vucic was quoted as saying by the state-controlled public broadcaster RTS late Wednesday during his meeting with Kosovo Serb representatives near the border.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognise it and encouraged Kosovo’s 120,000 ethnic Serbs to defy Pristina’s authority — especially in the north where ethnic Serbs 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 its immediate de-escalation and said they were working with both Serbia and Kosovo leaders to seek a political solution to one of the worst flare-ups in years in northern Kosovo.
Belgrade’s ally Russia voiced support for Serbia and said it was “very closely” following the developments while Germany warned against heightened military presence near the Kosovo border.
The EU and several international ambassadors this week condemned four recent attacks against journalists who were covering the flare-up.
Kosovo’s 1.8 million population is predominantly ethnic Albanian.