Kosovo Serbs to decide on north deal Tuesday

AFP , Saturday 6 Aug 2011

Serb officials will meet in Kosovo to decide if they will support a NATO-sponsored deal to contain a crisis in the Serb majority north

Serb municipal officials in Kosovo's north, the scene of deadly violence, will meet Tuesday to decide if they will back a NATO-brokered deal between Pristina and Belgrade to calm a crisis in the Serb majority north and allow Pristina and Belgrade to return to talks with EU mediators in September.

Four key municipalities have organised barricades blocking access to two border posts at the centre of a trade row. Representatives of the municipalities met Saturday and announced there would be another meeting Tuesday at noon (10:00 GMT) to decide what to do and whether to remove the roadblocks.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government said Friday it had agreed to the deal aimed at calming the crisis. The Serbian government had urged the Kosovo Serbs to take the solution that was offered but on Saturday the roadblocks stayed in place.

"We will defend what is ours, nothing more. We will not leave, we will stay till the end," a man in his 50s guarding the roadblock in Rudare, and who did not want to be named, said.

Under the deal, the disputed Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings would be named military security zones and manned by NATO-led KFOR troops, effectively remaining closed to commercial goods.

Kosovo banned imports from Serbia last month in a belated response to a similar move by Belgrade introduced in 2008 when the southern Serbian province unilaterally proclaimed its independence.

The crisis flared when Pristina two weeks ago ordered its security forces to take over the two border crossings to enforce the ban, which it said was being ignored by ethnic Serb members of Kosovo's border police.

Serbs in northern Kosovo reacted angrily and an ethnic Albanian police officer was killed and four injured in ensuing clashes.

NATO troops stepped in when one of the border posts was set on fire and bulldozed, apparently by ethnic Serbs.

Kosovo Serbs subsequently set up barricades on the roads leading to the crossings. They insist that the situation has to return to the way it was before Pristina moved in.

Serbian politicians are pressuring them to take the agreement with Pristina but it is not certain the local leadership will heed Belgrade.

Serbia's minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, praised the deal saying it would prevent bloodshed and stabilise the situation.

"I don’t see a reason why after all the tensions and frustrations we would not be able to reach unity and solve the problem," Bogdanovic was quoted as saying Friday by broadcaster B92.

He warned that a "return to the situation before 25 July is unrealistic at the moment and under these circumstances."

"Whoever breaks this deal will be responsible for the consequences as we have given a chance to agreement and to stabilise the situation on the ground," Serbia's chief negotiator for Kosovo, Borko Stefanovic, said.

In Pristina the deal was well received with President Atifete Jahjaga saying it was "good news" and would pave the way for a new round of EU-backed talks to solve practical issues hindering day-to-day life in the territory.

"The Brussels agenda whereby the sides talk with EU mediation is the only alternative until full normalisation of the relations between Kosovo and Serbia," the leading Koha Ditore daily said Saturday.

Pristina and Belgrade are due to resume EU-brokered talks in mid-September on a free trade agreement and other topics.

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