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Kosovo reopens border crossing with Serbia

MITROVICA, Kosovo –

Kosovo reopened the country’s main border crossing with Serbia on Thursday after a nearby barricade that led to the closure was lifted, while the Serbian president said more than a dozen other roadblocks were made by people. Serbs in northern Kosovo will also be lifted.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Serbs would start removing their barricades on Thursday. The move could defuse weeks-long tensions between Kosovo and Serbia that have raised fears of renewed clashes in the Balkans.

Kosovo has asked NATO-led peacekeepers to remove the barricades or says its forces will. Serbia then raised the army’s combat readiness on the border with Kosovo, demanding an end to “attacks” against the Serbs in Kosovo.

Vucic said the agreement to remove was reached at a late-night crisis meeting with Serb leaders in Kosovo.

It comes after the release of a former Serbian police officer in Kosovo who was detained on terrorism charges that sparked protests and clashes in northern Kosovo. A court ordered his detention on Wednesday.

The barricade, consisting mainly of heavy trucks, other vehicles and tents, remained in place until mid-morning Thursday. Kosovo police say unidentified assailants set fire to two trucks on a barricade in the northern town of Mitrovica.

Former police officer, Dejan Pantic, was detained on December 10 on charges of “terrorism” after allegedly assaulting a Kosovo police officer during an earlier protest.

The president and prime minister of Kosovo have criticized the Kosovo court’s decision to release Pantic.

President Vjosa Osmani said late on Wednesday: “How can a person accused of terrorism be transferred from custody to house arrest.

Merdare’s main border crossing with Serbia was closed earlier this week because of a barrier a few kilometers away, on the Serbian side of the border.

Kosovo police told foreigners arriving in Kosovo from European countries during the holiday that they could use that route again instead of going through North Macedonia or other points of entry.

The unrest over Pantic’s detention caused tense confrontations and shootings but no major clashes. However, there is growing international concern about a new conflict in the Balkans while the war in Ukraine is also raging.

A separatist insurgency by the majority Albanians in Kosovo led to the 1998-99 war with the brutal repression of the Serbs on the territory that was at the time the country’s province.

NATO intervened in 1999 to stop the onslaught and push Serbia out of Kosovo. But Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and has relied on Russia and China for support.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told that they must normalize relations in order to become members of the EU. Washington and Brussels have recently stepped up efforts to promote EU-brokered dialogue between former war enemies.



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