Kosovo Serbs refuse to lift roadblocks

AP News
Posted: Oct 19, 2011 11:35 AM
Kosovo Serbs refuse to lift roadblocks

Defying a NATO warning, Kosovo Serb leaders refused on Wednesday to unconditionally lift their roadblocks in the north of the country.

For nearly three months, Serbs have been blocking main roads in northern Kosovo to stop the country's ethnic Albanian leadership from extending its control over the part of Kosovo populated mostly by ethnic Serbs.

The Serbs reject Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

The 5,500-strong NATO-led force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, said Tuesday it will take unspecified "resolute" action if the Serbs fail to lift the blockade. The peacekeepers say they want to establish freedom of movement in the region and reopen supply routes for their troops.

At their meeting Wednesday, Kosovo Serb leaders remained defiant, saying they will not allow free travel in the region. They said they could only offer "controlled" lifting of the blockade for peacekeepers' "humanitarian" supplies.

"The barricades will not be removed because that is our legitimate means of reaching our legitimate goals," said Stevan Bozovic, a Kosovo Serb official.

A later meeting between Kosovo Serb officials and deputy KFOR commander Gen. Johan Luif ended without agreement.

"KFOR confronted us with an ultimatum to completely remove the barricades, which we could not accept," local Serb leader Slavisa Ristic said. "We think that KFOR is ready to carry out the action (to remove the barricades) already tonight."

He appealed to Serbia to come to the rescue of Kosovo Serbs. NATO chased Serb troops out of Kosovo in 1999 after their brutal crackdown against majority separatist ethnic Albanians.

In July, ethnic Albanian authorities deployed their security forces to two border checkpoints in northern Kosovo to enforce a trade ban with Serbia. Serbs reacted by blocking roads and triggering clashes with Kosovo police that left one police officer dead.

The Serbs said after the meeting they would lift the blockade only if the ethnic Albanian customs officers are removed from the two border posts with Serbia and KFOR guarantees they would not be transported to the checkpoints in its convoys.


Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade.