By Bojana Barlovac
Serbian officials are calling for locals in Serb-run parts of northern Kosovo to remove barricades and restore freedom of movement in the area.
Serbian President Boris Tadic spelled out the demand in Banja Luka on Wednesday. “The barricades are not contributing to the defence of Serb national interests. On the contrary, they are endangering them,” he said at a press conference.
His call has united Serbia’s centrist coalition, which has seemed split on the issue of the protests. For weeks they have attempted to agree on the content of a declaration on the north but have failed to do so.
Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac described the President’s message as courageous. Ivica Dacic, the Interior Minister, who threatened war over Kosovo last week, agreed, adding: “I am absolutely for dialogue and during that time no further unilateral moves from Pristina or [NATO peacekeepers in] KFOR should be made.”
Bojan Pajtic, vice-president of the ruling Democratic Party and chief minister of the northern province of Vojvodina, said it was in best interest of Kosovo Serbs to quit manning barricades and take the course of wise and patient negotiation.
“President Tadic’s call is a logical consequence of his persistent efforts to stop a policy of irresponsible demagoguery,” Pajtic told reporters in Belgrade.
The official statments mark an abrupt change of tone in Belgrade’s view of the dispute in northern Kosovo.
Earlier, leaders in Belgrade said they supported Kosovo Serbs and encouraged them to erect and man barricades.
The road blocks were put up until the Albanian-led government of Kosovo withdrew its officials from border crossings with Serbia at Jarinje and Brnjak. Kosovo deployed officials on the border in mid-July.
However, EU officials have recently clarified that Serbia’s bid for EU candidate country status might be set back as a result of the growing violence in Kosovo. EU foreign ministers are to decide on Serbia’s candidacy application on December 9.
The latest violence occurred on Monday, when a crowd of locals gathered to prevent troops from dismantling a barricade at Jagnjenica, near the town of Zubin Potok. Dozens of local Serbs and 25 KFOR peacekeepers were injured in clashes.
Kosovo Serbs said they were disappointed by the call to remove their barricades. Locals were reported to have built three new barricades in the village of Jagnjenica on Thursday in response.