Ethnic tensions along Kosovo’s eastern border appear to be easing amid fears of armed conflict.
All border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia have reopened after removing ethnic Serbs roadblocks set up in protest about the arrest of a police officer, which eases tensions in the volatile region.
The main crossing between the neighbors opened on Thursday after the barricades on the Serbian side of the river were dismantled Merdare border point. Kosovo police said on Friday that two smaller border crossings opened to traffic in the afternoon.
One barricade remained near the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, where two burnt-out trucks — the target of suspected arson — still blocked the road.
Tensions flared up on December 10 after ethnic Serbs in the north set up barricades to protest the arrest of a former police officer suspected of involvement in attacks on ethnic Albanian police officers.
After the roadblocks were set up, Kosovo police and international peacekeepers were attacked in several attacks shooting incidents.
Serbian forces were placed on heightened alert this week, sparking fears of armed conflict in the tense Balkan region.
Remove the roadblocks
Tensions eased on Wednesday when a Pristina court ordered the release of the former police officer, whose arrest Serbs cited as the main reason for erecting the barricades.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also urged Serbs to dismantle the roadblocks, following calls from the United States and the European Union for de-escalation.
On Thursday, the EU and NATO, the latest leading a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, welcomed the lifting of the barricades.
“Diplomacy prevailed in de-escalating tensions in North Kosovo,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
“Violence can never be a solution,” he tweeted, stressing the need for “urgent progress” in the EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
NATO also welcomed “attempts to de-escalate tensions in North Kosovo”.
A volatile situation
North Kosovo has been on high alert since November, when hundreds of ethnic Serb police officers, mayors, judges and prosecutors collectively walked out of their jobs.
They were protesting a controversial decision to ban Serbs living in Kosovo from using Belgrade-issued vehicles license platesa policy that was eventually scrapped by Pristina.
An attempt to fill the gap by deploying ethnic Albanian police officers in the Serb-majority north only exacerbated tensions.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a bitter war in the late 1990s.
Belgrade does not recognize Pristina’s authority and is encouraging Kosovo’s 120,000 ethnic Serbs to defy his rules, especially in the north, where they have a majority.