Both Sides Step Back From Brink of War in Kosovo

'Diplomacy prevailed in de-escalating tensions,' EU official says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 29, 2022 1:04 PM CST
Both Sides Step Back From Brink of War in Kosovo
Serb protesters stand at the barricade near the village of Rudare, close to Zvecan, near the northern, Serb-dominated part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.   (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

Serbia on Thursday revoked combat readiness of its troops on the border with Kosovo as local Serbs started removing more than a dozen of the roadblocks they had set up in the north of the state, in a sign of easing of tensions that have sparked fears of a renewed conflict in the Balkans. Earlier Thursday, Kosovo reopened a border crossing with Serbia after a nearby barricade that led to its closure was first removed. Later, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo dismantled another roadblock, with more set to follow, the AP reports. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic first announced late on Wednesday that Serbs would start removing their barricades. The move defuses weeks of tensions between former war foes Kosovo and Serbia.

The European Union, which both Serbia and Kosovo are seeking to join, welcomed the developments. "Diplomacy prevailed in de-escalating tensions in north Kosovo," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. "Violence can never be a solution." Kosovo, which has a majority ethnic Albanian population, is a former Serbian province from which Serbian forces were dislodged following a NATO bombing campaign in 1999. It declared independence nine years later but Belgrade doesn't recognize it. Kosovo had demanded that NATO-led peacekeepers remove the barricades, and said its own forces would do it otherwise. Serbia then raised combat readiness of its troops on the border, demanding an end to alleged attacks against Kosovo Serbs.

The deal to remove the barricades was reached at a late-night crisis meeting with the leaders of Kosovo's Serbs, Vucic said. It followed the release from jail of a former Kosovo Serb police officer, whose detention on a terrorism change triggered protests and tension in northern Kosovo. A Kosovo court ordered him placed under house arrest Wednesday. The former police officer, Dejan Pantic, was detained Dec. 10 for "terrorism" after allegedly assaulting a Kosovo police officer during an earlier protest. The unrest over Pantic's detention sparked tense standoffs and gunshots but no major clashes. However, international concerns grew of a new conflict in Europe while the war in Ukraine is raging as well. (Last month, license plates were a potential flashpoint in the region.)

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