By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
PRISTINA/BELGRADE (Worthy News) – Kosovo’s minority Serbs, who blocked roads in the north for 19 days, agreed to remove their barricades from Thursday after bowing to pressure from the United States and European Union to end the worst ethnic tensions in years. Yet distrust remained in the region where Serbia had put its armed forces on high alert ahead of Orthodox Christmas.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, who met Serbs from northern Kosovo in the Serbian town of Raska, said the removal of barricades is underway.
He told reporters that Serbs would begin dismantling the barriers in Kosovo.
But he added: “This is not a small process, and it can’t be done in two hours as some imagined. But within 24 to 48 hours, the barricades will be removed.”
The Serbian leader also warned that, in his words, the “distrust is not removed.” He said: “Those who are playing with the very existence of Serbs in Kosovo must know that, same as we didn’t allow it now, we will not allow it in the future as well.”
He stressed that the United States and European Union, mediating talks between Belgrade and Pristina to resolve bilateral issues, guaranteed that none of the Serbs who set up barricades would be prosecuted.
Yet the removal of the barricades was likely to ease the worst tensions between Belgrade and Pristina in recent years.
Serbia had mobilized its army near the border with Kosovo, suggesting that Serbs faced persecution there by the ruling ethnic Albanian majority.
EAST WEST STANDOFF
Additionally, a former Kosovo Serb policeman, Dejan Pantic, whose arrest this month triggered violent protests by Kosovo’s Serb minority, was released from custody and put under house arrest.
For more than 20 years, Kosovo has been a source of tension between the West, which backed its independence, and Russia, which did not.
Moscow supports Serbia which regards Kosovo as its province.
Russia also backed Serbia in blocking Kosovo’s membership in global organizations, including the United Nations.
And Russia delivered tanks, air-defense systems, and fighter jets to Serbia.
But Moscow denied Kosovo’s claims that Russia was influencing Serbia to destabilize Kosovo. Instead, Russia said Serbia was defending the rights of ethnic Serbs.
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