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NATO troops back off from ethnic Serbs blockading border post

NATO peacekeepers have retreated from a confrontation with ethnic Kosovo Serbs blockading border posts. The troops had been set to remove barriers built by protesters angry at a handover of frontier controls to Pristina.

Ethnic Serbians at one of the barriers

Ethnic Serbs erected barricades to block acccess to the border

NATO soldiers retreated from a tense stand-off on Saturday as they tried to dismantle a barrier erected by ethnic Kosovo Serbs.

Serbs in northern Kosovo had erected 16 barricades on roads leading to Brnjak and Jarinje after Kosovo authorities said in July they would replace ethnic Serb customs officers at the border with its own staff and EU officials.

Troops from the NATO peacekeeping group KFOR, which is tasked with enforcing the Kosovar government plan, were deployed in the night between Friday and Saturday morning. They cleared three of the roadblocks, but abandoned their mission as ethnic Serbs protecting the barriers refused to stand down, despite warning that force would be used.

Troops advance blocked

Hundreds of Serbs were reported to have sat down in the streets, blocking the soldiers' advance. The barriers mostly consist of logs, earth and parked trucks.

About 40,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo, making up the majority in a number of towns. They have refused to recognize the largely ethnic Albanian government which claims authority in Kosovo, where the overall majority of people are ethnically Albanian.

The situation on Saturday was described as calm but tense. Earlier this week, KFOR troops used tear gas against Serbs who were stopping them from dismantling the barricades, with dozens needing treatment.

Author: Zulfikar Abbany, Richard Connor (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Andrew Bowen

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