KFOR Begins Dismantling Kosovo Serb Roadblocks
October 20, 2011
NATO-led peacekeepers have confronted angry ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo as Kosovo Force (KFOR) troops began dismantling barricades erected near a disputed border crossing with Serbia.
For more than a month, Kosovo Serbs have been completely blocking roads leading to two border points -- Brnjak and Jarinje -- to stop the country's leadership from extending its control over the part of the country populated mostly by ethnic Serbs.
Ethnic Serbs in the region do not recognize Pristina's authority or the independence that majority-ethnic-Albanian Kosovo declared from Serbia in 2008.
RFE/RL Kosovo Unit correspondent Albana Isufi said that KFOR troops had managed to remove some of the barricades to allow them free access to soldiers based in the northern part of Kosovo.
They had been denied such access since September 16, preventing supplies from getting to those NATO-led troops.
Lone Trouble Spot?
Peacekeepers in riot gear moved at dawn against some 150 demonstrators at roadblocks erected on a road to the Brnjak border crossing. Protesters chanted, "Serbia! Serbia! Serbia!"
KFOR troops used tear gas against the demonstrators near the village of Jagnjenica as the crowds refused to disperse.
They used trucks and armored vehicles to remove the makeshift barriers consisting of parked trucks, rocks, tires, and logs.
KFOR said eight soldiers had been slightly injured, but a spokesman for the force told RFE/RL that the operation was "successful."
Meanwhile, Isufi said the situation at the road leading to the Jarinje border point was peaceful.
"The barricades on the Jarinje [road] remain there still, [but] KFOR has emphasized that they will no [longer] tolerate barricades on the road," Isufi said.
In Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic urged NATO to refrain from the use of force and called on Kosovo Serbs not to resort to violence, saying it "would lead to an abyss."
Tadic's statement came after Serb leaders from northern Kosovo on October 19 defied NATO calls to remove roadblocks, saying they could only offer to allow the supply convoys for KFOR troops to pass on condition they maintain the roadblocks and check the KFOR transports.
Defending 'Freedom Of Movement'
Serb leaders in northern Kosovo had called for Belgrade to send in Serbian troops and police, while KFOR announced that it was "ready and resolved to take action on behalf of freedom of movement."
In July, Pristina authorities deployed security forces to the two border checkpoints to enforce a trade ban with Serbia.
Serbs reacted by blocking roads and triggering clashes with Kosovo police that left one police officer dead.
Around 40,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo, making up the majority in a number of towns.
compiled from RFE/RL and agency reports
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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