Minority Serbs removed key barricades they controlled in Kosovo's lawless north on Wednesday, in a move expected to help Serbia clear a key hurdle on Friday in its bid to join the European Union.
Serbs in a small slice of mainly-Albanian Kosovo, not controlled by Pristina, have been manning barricades since July in an attempt to prevent the Kosovo government seizing control of two border crossings there.
Kosovo police, customs and NATO peacekeepers(KFOR) were seen checking vehicles at the northern Jarinje border crossing on Wednesday, the site of violent clashes earlier this year, a Reuters eyewitness said.
Traffic was also moving smoothly through the village of Jagnjenica, where two German NATO soldiers were shot and wounded last week as they began removing a Serb-built roadblock.
Replacing barricades made of earth, logs and old cars and trucks, KFOR soldiers took just minutes to check drivers and their car trunks before waving them through the new barbed-wire checkpoints.
The easing of tensions came after Belgrade and Pristina last week struck a deal on joint management of border crossings, a key step in Serbia's effort to secure the status of candidate for EU membership on Dec 9.
"This demonstrates the ability of Serbs (from northern Kosovo) to implement all deals and it is the testimony to Serbia's determination to negotiable solutions," Serbian government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic told Reuters.
On Tuesday, Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, said the border deal represented tacit recognition of Pristina's declaration of independence in 2008.
"The agreement is a tantamount to de jure recognition of the Republic of Kosovo by Serbia," Thaci told his cabinet.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after a two-year war. Kosovo has been recognised by more than 80 countries, including the United States and most EU members.
Mihajlovic dismissed Thaci's remarks and said the border deal was in line with the United Nations resolution 1244 that regulated pullout of Serb forces from Kosovo and the deployment of NATO troops in 1999.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday welcomed the Kosovo border deal as consistent with resolution 1244 and called for more efforts aimed at defusing tensions.