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Tensions High On Kosovo-Serbia Border As KFOR Deadline Approaches

October 17, 2011

PRISTINA -- Tensions along Kosovo's northern border with neighboring Serbia are high as NATO forces have announced they will dismantle makeshift barricades on roads leading to border crossings.

Local ethnic Serbs erected the barricades in July after the central Kosovo government attempted to seize control of the checkpoints. Ethnic Serbs in the region do not recognize Pristina's authority or Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.

NATO-led KFOR troops have said they will dismantle any barriers left standing on October 18, while local leaders have said they will attempt to peacefully resist any such move.

On October 17, residents of the town of Zubin Potok held a rally they described as a "rehearsal" for resistance.

"We ask nothing from them except to be left alone, to stay and live in the state of Serbia," Zubin Potok Mayor Salvisa Ristic told the protesters.

At a meeting with KFOR commander Erhard Drews on October 15, representatives of the four main municipalities in the region asked Drews to take no action until after an October 19 joint session of the four towns. But KFOR initially set an October 17 deadline for dismantling the barricades and later pushed it back one day to October 18.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said in an interview published by the Belgrade newspaper "Politika" on October 16 that the borders between Serbia and Kosovo must be redrawn if the current tensions are to be resolved peacefully. He called for an international conference to divide Kosovo, saying otherwise the region will be enslaved by a situation that "will for years eat away like a cancer at our mutual relations and the general situation in the Balkans."

The conflict threatens to complicate Belgrade's efforts for further integration with the European Union.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks numerous additional roads have been quietly constructed between Serbia and northern Kosovo. One by one, these new crossing points have been shut off by KFOR forces.

It remains unclear who is building the roads. Borislav Stefanovic, head of the Serbian negotiating team in Pristina, told RFE/RL that the roads are a local matter.

"The municipalities are building the roads. I can't say any more than that. Every municipality has a right to build because commercial companies have the machinery."

Branko Ninic, head of the parallel structure of the municipality of Leposavic, told RFE/RL that his town is currently building two roads and that they are being funded jointly by the town and the Serbian state company Putevi Srbije (Serbian Roads). He claimed that most of the funding is coming from Serbia.

The head of the Mitrovica parallel structure, Krstimir Pantic, also said his town is building new roads and that Serbian Roads and private companies are involved. Asked why he does not pass through the checkpoint at Merdar when traveling from Serbia, Pantic said he fears having his documents confiscated by Kosovo border agents.

"I would be arrested as soon as I entered the southern part of the town since I don't have Kosovar documents," Pantic said. "They are taking away Serbian documents from Serbs."

Rada Trajkovic, an ethnic Serb and a deputy in the Kosovo Assembly, told RFE/RL that she had recently crossed the Merdar checkpoint with Serbian documents and had no problem. She said she had had no difficulties with the "Albanian" border guards.

Trajkovic added that building new roads is not a solution to the problem.

"It is a useless waste of energy and effort," Tajkovic said. "It's sad and, of course, a waste of money."

She added that it is hard for the impoverished region to bear.

"They are spending a huge amount of money to achieve certain political goals that they think are more valuable than money," Tajkovic said.

with agency reports; RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague



Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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