MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Serbs in north Kosovo on Tuesday resisted a demand by NATO peacekeepers to remove more than a dozen roadblocks in a months-long stand-off over control of two disputed border crossings.
NATO’s peacekeeping force (KFOR) had given minority Serbs until Tuesday to remove barricades erected in July when Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian-dominated authorities tried to take control of the border points.
But as of Tuesday, the barricades were still there, and NATO pulled out its convoy of trucks and armored personnel carriers that had been ordered to travel to the contested Brnjak border crossing, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pristina.
KFOR commander, German General Erhard Drews said he was disappointed with the defiance of Kosovo Serbs.
“The north did not comply with the request to remove the roadblocks,” Drews said in a statement.
Serbs in the north reject Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, and on Tuesday they came out in larger numbers to man roadblocks that have forced NATO to take to helicopters to supply the disputed border gates.
Serbs have called on NATO to postpone any operation until Wednesday, when community leaders will meet to discuss a possible compromise solution.
“There will be no KFOR actions today or tomorrow until representatives of (Serb) municipalities agree on how to end the impasse,” Slavisa Ristic, mayor of the nearby town of Zubin Potok, said in a TV broadcast.
In September, NATO used helicopters to bypass the barricades and establish a skeleton EU and Kosovo police and customs presence at the border gates.
But the roadblocks remain, in a challenge to the West’s efforts to reverse Kosovo’s de facto ethnic partition.
On Tuesday, Drews warned KFOR will remove roadblocks if the meeting of municipality leaders on Wednesday fails to produce results.
“KFOR is ready and resolved to take action on behalf of freedom of movement,” the statement said.
Serbia effectively runs northern Kosovo, but is under pressure to help resolve the impasse after the European Commission conditioned future EU accession talks on Belgrade’s cooperation on Kosovo.
Previous attempts to remove the barricades have ended in violent clashes.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 when NATO bombed for 78 days to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces in a two-year counter-insurgency war.
More than 80 countries, including the United States and most of the European Union, have recognised the new country.
Additional reporting by Branislav Krstic; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Sophie Hares