By Bojana Barlovac and Fatmir Aliu
As Serbs in northern Kosovo continue strengthening roadblocks, Belgrade has undertaken diplomatic action to resolve tensions on the ground.
Serb-run northern Kosovo remained calm on Saturday, one day after the controversial deployment of EU police and Kosovo customs officials on border crossings with Serbia.
Kosovo customs staff and EULEX police arrived by helicopter at the crossings at Jarinje and Brnjak at around 8am on Friday under an agreement with the EU rule-of-law mission and NATO peacekeeping troops in KFOR.
Local Serbs opposed to the deployment of officials from the Albanian-led government in Pristina have blocked roads and the main bridge over the Ibar in the divided northern town of Mitrovica all week.
On Friday, barricades were further strengthened in many locations, blocking the main road from Mitrovica in Kosovo to Raska in Serbia.
Minor incidents were reported on Friday night. A group of Kosovo Albanians from the southern, government-held part of Mitrovica threw stones at Serbs who were strengthening a barricade on the bridge that divides the Serb north from the Albanian south of the city. Serbs fought back with stones but after a brief time the situation calmed down.
Borislav Stefanovic, head of Serbia’s negotiating team in EU-mediated Kosovo talks, who visited Serbs manning barricades on Friday night, urged local Serbs to be patient and wise.
“This is a tough fight that must be won with the head, not the heart,” Stefanovic said.
With that in mind, Belgrade has undertaken a series of diplomatic moves and has submitted a proposal to Brussels on how the situation at the two border crossings might be solved.
“The proposal was submitted as part of our wider activities to prevent and annul the move that Pristina has undertaken, given that the move was in no way agreed in Brussels,” Stefanovic said, referring to Kosovo’s move to take control of the border crossings.
Milivoje Mihajlovic, head of the Serbian government’s information bureau, said that Serbia and the Serbian people in Kosovo had shown unity and composure, sending a positive image to the world.
“Today was a big test for the Serbian community in the north of Kosovo and Metohija. There have been attempts to create incidents and provocations south of the Ibar river, and we expected it, but this time the Serbs have not let themselves be deceived,” Mihajlovic said on Friday.
Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, also visited Kosovo Serbs on Friday. After meeting mayors of Kosovo Serbs municipalities, he discussed how to keep the situation on the ground calm and normalize life of people there.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia mounted in late July when Kosovo police tried to seize control of the two border crossings at Jarinje and Brnjak, which NATO’s KFOR troops had controlled since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.
On September 2, Belgrade and Pristina, in the sixth round of EU-mediated talks, reached an agreement on customs allowing for the restoration of free movement of goods between Kosovo and Serbia.
Following the agreement, Kosovo government unveiled a plan, put in force on Friday, according to which Kosovo customs officials and EU border police would be present on the Kosovo-Serbia border.
According to the plan, Kosovo’s authorities would have overall authority at the crossings but would be supervised by EU rule-of-law, EULEX, police.