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Kosovo Serbs: we won't remove barricades leading to the north

For more than a month, European Union police have helicoptered Kosovo customs officers over some 16 mud-and-log barricades guarded by local Serbs who do not want to accept that Kosovo is an independent state.

A NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) helicopter lands next to barricades made by local Serbs on the Brnjak border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo, on Wednesday. Hundreds of Serbs gathered at the barriers to protect them from forced removal by the peacekeepers who say they want to establish freedom of movement in the region, and reopen supply routes for their troops.

Darko Vojinovic/AP

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A standoff between NATO officials and local Serbs in Kosovo continues to roil, with hardliners today saying they will defy demands to remove road barricades leading to two border stations in the Serb-majority north.

For more than a month, European Union police have helicoptered Kosovo customs officers over some 16 mud-and-log roadblocks guarded by local Serbs who do not want to accept that Kosovo is an independent state.

The barricades are a symbol of local Serb defiance and were erected this summer after tense clashes, as Kosovo police tried to establish their authority at border control points. Meanwhile, Russian officials have said they are establishing a “humanitarian center,” formerly described as an air base, 50 miles from the Kosovo border in the Serbian town of Nis.

NATO officials gave Serbs a barricade removal deadline last weekend, and another Tuesday. But Serbs did not comply. Today, after a meeting of municipal Serb leaders (elected unofficially in the view of the EU) they said the barricades would be lifted only for limited freedom of movement for KFOR (the term used for NATO in Kosovo) and for humanitarian purposes, terms that in the past have been highly arbitrary.

"I am disappointed with this outcome," said Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, the NATO commander in Kosovo, yesterday. "The north did not comply with the request to remove the roadblocks."

Kosovo is an important national symbol in Serbia; the loss of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO intervened to stop ethnic cleansing, and the subsequent 2008 US and EU backing of Kosovo's declaration of independence, are sore points in Belgrade.

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