Tensions in Kosovo: Serbia wants to remove road blockades

Serbian President Vukcic has announced the dismantling of the barricades in northern Kosovo. / Kosova Serbia tension

Earlier, a Kosovan judge ordered the release of a Serbian police officer whose arrest sparked recent tensions.

Amid the deepening conflict in the Balkans between Serbia and Kosovo, a solution to the 19-day road blockade is emerging.

Serbs will start dismantling the barricades in the morning, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced in the evening after a meeting with Serbs from northern Kosovo in the Serbian city of Raska. “It’s a long process. It’s going to take a while.”

The trigger was the arrest of a Serbian police officer who is said to have attacked Kosovo police officers at an earlier demonstration. The Serbian demonstrators are demanding his release and set up roadblocks in the course of the sometimes violent protests. A court in Pristina has now ordered that he be released from custody and placed under house arrest.

Tensions had increased

Tensions in the region had escalated this week after Serbia put the army on alert on Monday and Kosovo closed its main border crossing on Wednesday.

NATO, the USA and the European Union were concerned about the development and called for restraint and a willingness to engage in dialogue. The conflict has been smoldering for more than 20 years. Around 50,000 Serbs live in the north of the predominantly Albanian Kosovo. They refuse to recognize the government in Pristina and Kosovo as a state. Serbia also does not recognize the independence of the region.

Kosovo court orders release of Serbian police officer

Movement appeared to be picking up in the latest standoff in the evening after a Kosovo court ordered the release of the former Serb-Kosovar police officer whose arrest had fueled tensions.

The court ordered house arrest for Dejan Pantic instead of custody, his lawyer Ljubomir Pantovic told the AP news agency. He must now be taken to his apartment by the police. However, this could raise new problems. According to Pantovic, the police have to get past the barricades that the Serbs have erected in protest against Pantic’s arrest.

Pantic is accused of attacking a Kosovar colleague during a protest. His arrest on terrorism charges led to Serb protests in Kosovo, which blocked several roads in the north of the country. Shots and explosions erupted near soldiers of the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR. Nobody was seriously injured. The Kosovar government threatened to clear the barricades. Serbia ordered its troops to be ready for combat near the border.

Kosovo’s prime minister criticizes decision

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti criticized the decision. “I am curious to know who is the prosecutor who is making an application and who is the judge who is making the decision to place someone under house arrest who is charged with terrorism,” he said. State media and officials in Belgrade portrayed the ex-cop’s release from prison as a “triumph” of Vucic’s policies.

The United States and the European Union expressed concern about the situation in a joint statement on Wednesday. “We call on everyone to exercise the utmost restraint, to take immediate action to unconditionally de-escalate the situation and to refrain from provocation, threats or intimidation,” the statement said. You are working with Vucic and Kurti to find a political solution and agree on how to proceed.

The French foreign ministry warned all travelers near the Serbian-Kosovar border to exercise extreme caution and avoid gatherings while tensions persist.

Kosovo closes border crossing to Serbia

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