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Barricades On Kosovo-Serbia Border Removed, Ending Tense Standoff

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Kosovar Serb Protesters Leave, NATO Troops Arrive At Serbian Border
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JARINJE/BRNJAK, Kosovo -- Two crossings along the Kosovo-Serbia border were reopened to traffic on October 2 as ethnic Serbian protesters removed vehicles, Kosovar special police units withdrew, and NATO troops moved in as part of an EU-mediated deal to defuse a tense standoff sparked by a dispute over vehicle license plates.

The pullout of Kosovo special police units, cars, and trucks at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings was completed at around 3 p.m. local time with no incidents reported, putting an end a potentially explosive situation pitting Kosovar Albanian and Serbian communities against one another.

The crossings were blocked by local ethnic Serbs after Kosovar authorities on September 20 ordered all drivers entering Kosovo from Serbia to use temporary, 60-day, printed license plates.

The government said the move was in retaliation for measures in Serbia against drivers from Kosovo that have been in place since 2008, when the country declared independence from Belgrade.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence and therefore its right to impose rules and regulations such as registering cars and trucks.

Makeshift barricades erected by local Serbs at the border crossings prompted Kosovo's government to send in police units. Serbian military jets and helicopters, meanwhile, also buzzed the border in a show of force.

The barricades included dump trucks with Serbian flags on their side, and piles of trees.

Under the deal, workers removed the barricades and Kosovar authorities ordered the withdrawal of its special police units.

Troops from the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, will deploy at the crossings for the next two weeks in an effort to help ensure cross-border traffic resumes without problem.

"As from this weekend and for the next two weeks, KFOR will maintain a temporary robust and agile presence in the area...to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities living in Kosovo," the force said in a statement.

The European Union brokered talks between Serbian and Kosovar government officials in Brussels this week to break the impasse.

EU and U.S. officials also called for dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to continue to normalize their relations, which remain strained despite substantial cross-border commerce.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondents Arton Konushevci reported from Jarinje and Sandra Cvetkovic from Gracanica
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