RUDARE/PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo and Serbia said on Friday they had reached a temporary deal to ease tensions in Kosovo’s north and allow NATO to continue to guard two border posts following recent violence.
However, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo’s north refused to accept a key part of the deal and end a blockade of main roads imposed in a dispute that is essentially about who controls the area.
“We will stay at the barricades because as mayors of northern Kosovo we are obliged to respect the opinion of the local people,” said Mayor Dragisa Milovic from Zvecan, one of the region’s larger towns.
“We don’t want to oppose the Serbian state but we want to respect your decisions,” he told several hundred people maintaining the blockade in defiance of pleas from Serbia’s chief negotiator with Kosovo who visited the road block.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but the 60,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo still consider Belgrade their capital.
Violence flared last week after Kosovo, which broke away from Belgrade in 2008, attempted to seize border posts that had been staffed mostly by ethnic Serbs to enforce a new ban on imports from Serbia.
Pristina acted apparently judging that Belgrade’s strong desire to win European Union candidate member status in October would moderate its reaction. Yet local Serbs in northern Kosovo reacted angrily and vowed they would not be ruled from Pristina.
Friday’s agreement was an effort to ease tensions after a Kosovo policeman was shot dead last week and a border post set on fire. The deal left unresolved for future talks the thorny issue of who would control the north and how in the future.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci called Friday’s agreement the most important achievement since his tiny nation’s declaration of independence three years ago.
Under the deal, NATO’s KFOR mission will continue to guard two border posts and will let civilians pass in and out of Kosovo, he said. The EU’s law and justice mission EULEX also operates in Kosovo.
“Finally Kosovo has been able to take its borders under control and the whole international community is the guarantee of this,” Thaci told a government session.
“The smuggling will be stopped hundred percent, all negative occurrences will be fought by KFOR, Kosovo police and EULEX.”
Under the agreement no goods from Serbia will enter Kosovo but Pristina will not send its police and customs officers to the northern border posts. This situation will continue until mid-September when both Belgrade and Pristina resume talks in Brussels to resolve trade issues, officials said.
Only trucks with humanitarian aid will be allowed to cross the border, with NATO inspecting cargos.
Editing by Adam Tanner and Gareth Jones