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NATO begins dismantling Serb barricade in northern Kosovo

NATO-led troops have fired tear gas to disperse angry Serb crowds manning roadblocks at a contested border crossing in northern Kosovo. The soldiers have used armored vehicles to remove the barriers.

A barricade built by Kosovo Serbs in northern Kosovo

Talks with Serb leaders on Wednesday were unsuccessful

NATO troops in full riot gear moved in the early hours of Thursday to dismantle makeshift roadblocks set up by Kosovo Serbs in northern Kosovo.

Tear gas was used to disperse the crowd of protesters, who do not recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia or the authority of the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina.

The international troops say they want to establish freedom of movement in the region. The Serb protesters consider the northern region to be part of Serbia.

Protesters erected the barriers at two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia after the Pristina government placed Kosovo Albanian customs officials on the border in July to enforce a trade ban with Serbia. The ethnic Serbs fear this could limit their access to Serbia and there have been repeated clashes at the two sites, killing one policeman.

No injuries were reported on Thursday. After the protesters were moved from the barricades the mood was calm but tense, with Serbs sitting in the streets to prevent further action by the international and Kosovo soldiers (KFOR).

Tadic calls for calm

A border crossing burns it in the village of Jarinje, on the Serbia-Kosovo border

A border crossing was set on fire in July, as protesters pushed Kosovo police out

The move by NATO came after talks with Serb leaders on Wednesday fell apart without producing a deal on the border crossings. The Serbs said they would only lift the blockade if the Albanian customs officials were removed and officials could guarantee that KFOR and the European Union rule of law mission (EULEX) would not be transported to the checkpoints in the peacekeepers convoys.

Serbian President Boris Tadic called on NATO to refrain from the use of force and urged Kosovo Serbs to remain peaceful.

"Local [Serb] leaders should work only in the best interest of people and not under the influence of some [Serbian] political parties," he said in a statement. "Under no means should the people resort to violence, as that would lead to an abyss."

Ethnic Serb mayors and community leaders had pushed for Belgrade to send in Serbian troops and police.

"Their position was solidified by nationalists from Belgrade who want to undermine Serbia's efforts to normalize the situation in the region and join the European Union," the Reuters news agency quoted an unidentified Serbian official as saying.

Serbian troops were driven from Kosovo in 1999 by NATO forces after their brutal crackdown against separatist ethnic Albanians. Kosovo was run by a United Nations administration until 2008, when it was replaced by EULEX.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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