JARINJE, Kosovo – Serbs removed trucks and cars used to block the border with Kosovo on Saturday as NATO troops moved in under a European Union mediated deal to end a dispute between the neighbouring countries over car licence plates.
Kosovo special police are also expected to withdraw from the border crossing in the north of the country nearly two weeks after Serbs blocked roads when Kosovo introduced temporary licence plates for all cars from Serbia.
The Kosovo government said the move was in retaliation for Serbian measures taken against drivers from Kosovo since 2008, when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and therefore its right to take actions such as registering cars, and this month’s confrontation had boiled over into violence.
However the two countries, with mediation by EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak, struck a deal on Thursday to use stickers on licence plates to cover state symbols, and allow NATO, which has some 3,000 troops in Kosovo, to control the area.
Local Serbs on Saturday chatted with Slovenian soldiers, who are part of the NATO force, as they removed barricades while Kosovo police vehicles stood at the border crossing.
The deadline for their withdrawal is 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).
Serbia, which lost control over Kosovo after NATO bombing in 1999, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and therefore its right to take actions such as registering cars.
But as Serbia moves towards EU membership it has to resolve all outstanding issues with Kosovo. The two parties agreed to an EU mediated dialogue in 2013, but little progress has been made.
Kosovo’s independence was backed by Western countries including United States and Britain, but it is still not recognised by five EU member states and its membership of the United Nations is blocked by Serbia’s traditional ally Russia.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Alexander Smith