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Serbs Face Deadline To Remove Barriers In Kosovo

Kosovo -- An ethnic Serb man passes by a barricade set up in the village of Zupce.
Serbs in northern Kosovo are facing a deadline by the NATO-led peacekeeping force to remove roadblocks.

The 5,500-strong peacekeeping force, known as KFOR, says if the Serbs don't dismantle the 16 barricades consisting of mud and rocks by today its soldiers will be brought in to do it.

As the expiration of the ultimatum neared, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Belgrade and Pristina to resolve the crisis through dialogue, stating blocked borders are unacceptable.

One Kosovo Serb official, Slavisa Ristic, told AP the Serbs won't remove the barricades because they want to defend "their country and the future of our children."

However, another Kosovo Serb official, Krstimir Pantic, told AFP Kosovo Serb leaders want another day to decide what they will do.

KFOR has already extended the deadline once.

KFOR soldiers in the divided town of Mitrovica have handed out leaflets warning people "not to participate in activities which may endanger their safety."

For nearly three months, ethnic Serbs have been blocking main roads to stop ethnic Albanian authorities from stretching their control over northern Kosovo, populated mainly by ethnic Serbs who refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence.

In July, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership ordered its security forces to man two border crossings in northern Kosovo to enforce a trade ban with Serbia.

Serbs responded by blocking roads with barriers, sparking clashes with Kosovo police and leaving one police officer dead.

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.

compiled from agency reports

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