Kosovo withdraws police commandos from contested border checkpoints

Kosovo withdraws police commandos from contested border checkpoints

Kosovo police commandos on Wednesday withdrew from contested border crossings in the mainly Serb north of the country, following tensions with Serbia that drew international pressure for calm to be restored, dpa reported.

Kosovo police stormed the two border crossings of Brnjak and Jarinje on Monday night, after which Serbs set up barricades and a Kosovo Albanian policeman was killed in the ensuing violence.

"Special forces achieved their goal. The goal was to enable customs officials to do their work," police spokesman Brahim Sadriju said in Pristina.

The contested border crossings are now controlled by customs officials appointed by the Kosovo government and backed by KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi told broadcaster KTV.

The customs officials will be transported to and from work by KFOR helicopters until the situation normalizes further, he said.

The pullout of police commandos followed pressure from the European Union and United States, which urged Kosovo to refrain from acting unilaterally.

While the situation was calm Wednesday, the violence has jeopardized the already fragile talks that Serbia and Kosovo launched in March under EU auspices.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nine years after NATO drove Serbia's forces from the territory to end war and ethnic cleansing attacks.

While Albanians make up 90 per cent of the Kosovo population, Serbs vastly dominate the northernmost section. Backed by Belgrade financially and politically, they continue to resist efforts by Pristina to assert control over the area.

The EU-sponsored talks hit a wall last week, when Serbia refused to lift an effective trade embargo on Kosovo goods, drawing a "reciprocal" measure from Pristina.

The deadlock may dash Serbia's hopes of getting formal EU recognition as a membership candidate this year. European officials have said that Serbia needs to normalize its relations with Kosovo as a condition for membership.

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