NATO starts clearing roadblocks in Kosovo

Roadblocks were put up to protest Kosovo police action to control disputed crossings with Serbia.

Pristina: NATO removed roadblocks put up by Serbs in Kosovo`s north, but barricades still remain following a week of violence that left one Kosovo policeman dead, a spokesman for the alliance said on Monday.

Cpt Hans Wichter said peacekeepers have removed three roadblocks made of gravel and tree trunks that stopped the force from accessing bases in the north. It is unclear how many remain, but NATO said there are least five on two roads at the Serbia border.

The roadblocks were put up in protest of a Kosovo police action to control two disputed crossings with Serbia. After police withdrew last week, a mob of Serb attackers set fire to one border post and fired on NATO peacekeepers sent to quell the violence.

Wichter did not disclose what the military alliance was going to do with the remaining roadblocks, saying it was "a military secret”. Infantry units were sent to secure the volatile area, Wichter said.

"There is still the threat of snipers and armed resistance from radical elements," Wichter said.

"They are armed with rifles, pistols and perhaps explosives."

A reporter witnessed Portuguese and Hungarian peacekeepers stopping ahead of a barricade manned by at least 200 Serbs.

The peacekeepers came under fire as they deployed to take over control of two border crossings. Traffic has since been closed for trucks, raising concerns that the Serb ethnic minority, which rejects all links with the Kosovo government, is running short on food supplies.

Wichter blamed Serb leaders for blocking supplies.

"In our eyes they are responsible," he said.

Last week, Kosovo`s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci ordered special police units into the Serb-run area to enforce a ban on Serbian goods at the two border crossings under Serb control. The move sparked anger among local Serbs who want the former province of Kosovo to remain part of Serbia.

The recent violence was condemned by the European Union, which has a 3,000-strong rule of law mission in Kosovo, known as EULEX.

Relations were strained after EULEX was sidestepped by Kosovo authorities in conducting the operation in the north.

Bureau Report

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