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Kosovo official: Serbian roadblocks will be removed

Kosovo says removal of barriers set up near border with Serbia is 'inevitable,' stresses coordination with NATO, EU

AP , Thursday 29 Sep 2011
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Kosovo's interior minister said Thursday that roadblocks put up by local Serbs in the country's north would be removed, but pledged ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities would make no unilateral moves.

Bajram Rexhepi says the removal of barriers is "inevitable" as they prevent "freedom of movement for people and goods," but added that any future action would be coordinated with the NATO-led peacekeeping force and the European Union rule-of-law mission.

On Tuesday, a clash between local Serbs and NATO-led troops near the border with Serbia in Kosovo's north left 11 people - seven Serbs and four troops - wounded.

Serbs in that area reject Kosovo's 2008 secession and have blocked main roads to stop authorities from setting up customs, a move they see as establishing Kosovo's statehood over the whole territory.

The area has been a flashpoint ever since the end of the war in Kosovo in 1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign forced Serbia to relinquish control over its former province, which was then placed under UN administration. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, a move backed by the United States and a majority of the European nations but vehemently opposed by Serbia and Russia.

Rexhepi said that the July police operation in the north, which set off months of tension, was intended to break a status quo that has left the region in limbo.

A police officer was killed during that operation, which aimed at placing Kosovo customs officers at the border and forced NATO to flood the north with additional troops.

Since then, Kosovo's north has remained tense amid Serbian refusal to accept Pristina's authority.

Tomislav Nikolic, the head of Serbia's most popular political party, visited Serbs injured in clashes with NATO troops. Local Serb leaders have blamed US troops serving in the NATO-led force for shooting at protesters. The military alliance, however, has said its troops fired back in self defence.

"At this moment, everything is decided by the US, but I think the Russian Federation has a great global impact," Nikolic said in the Serb-run part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.

Nikolic, the head of Serbia's Progressive Party, said Russia is likely to continue to support Serbia's rejection of Kosovo's independence and back Belgrade's attempts to bring Kosovo's political status to the negotiating table. The United States and the main EU countries have rejected these calls.

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