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Serbs in northern Kosovo start removing roadblocks

December 29, 2022

A roadblock near the main border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia was removed in a step expected to diffuse tension between Belgrade and Pristina after weeks of violent protests.

Three trucks blocking a road in Mitrovica
Serbs in northern Kosovo have blocked several key roads amid an ongoing political crisisImage: Vudi Xhymshiti/AA/picture alliance

Following an announcement from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic late Wednesday, Serbs in northern Kosovo on Thursday began removing barricades that blocked a key border crossing in recent weeks, state-run RTS television reported.

Cars and trucks were queueing in front of the border point from the Serbian side where the roadblock was set up, the report said, while Kosovo police confirmed the crossing was officially reopened.

Vicic's announcement came after a late-night crisis meeting between Belgrade and Serb leaders in Kosovo.

"This means that from [Thursday], from the morning hours, the removal of barricades will begin," Vucic said after the meeting.

More barricades to come down over days

Protesters had set up more than 10 roadblocks in northern Kosovo, and it could take up to two days to completely dismantle them.

They had also blocked the border crossing of Merdare — one of the main roads connecting Serbia and Kosovo.

"This is not a simple process, and cannot be done in two hours, as some imagined," Vucic said.

"Within 24 to 48 hours the barricades will be removed," he added. "But the distrust is not removed."

A KFOR patrol in Mitrovica, Kosovo
Peacekeeping forces have been deployed in northern KosovoImage: Vudi Xhymshiti/AA/picture alliance

What caused the latest tensions between Kosovo and Serbia?

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia does not recognize this.

The latest escalation in tensions began in November when Kosovo moved to ban Serbian-issued license plates.

Authorities in Kosovo backed down in response to protests from the country's Serb community as well as pressure from the European Union.

A map of the Serb population in Kosovo

However, protests continued to escalate when a Serb ex-policeman who had quit over the license plate row was detained after he allegedly assaulted Kosovar police officers.

Serb protesters began barricading roads connecting Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia also ordered its army to be at the highest level of combat readiness on Monday.

"We call on everyone to exercise maximum restraint, to take immediate action to unconditionally de-escalate the situation, and to refrain from provocations, threats, or intimidation," the European Union and US State Department said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

There are around 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo, which has a total population of 1.8 million people.

zc/sms (EFE, AFP, Reuters, AP)