PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo Serbs have used trucks and bulldozers overnight to dismantle a roadblock in the tense city of Mitrovica that they put up almost three years ago to stop ethnic Albanians authorities from extending authority over the Serb-run north, a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.
Col. Angelo Morcella, spokesman for the force in Kosovo, said the citizens decided on their own to remove the roadblock, a mound of earth reinforced with concrete barriers on the main bridge over the river Ibar.
The act followed several meetings between the top NATO commander in Kosovo, Italian Maj. Gen. Salvatore Farina, and Kosovo Serb leaders, he said.
The thaw in relations comes as a result of talks mediated by the European Union. Serbia rejects Kosovo's 2008 secession but the EU has conditioned the country's eventual membership in the bloc on settling its dispute with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
Last month the mayors of four Serb municipalities in the north went for the first time to the headquarters of the force — known as KFOR — in the capital Pristina to meet Farina, who commands some 5,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo. Serbs in Kosovo consider NATO peacekeepers as aggressors and say the 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia paved the way for Kosovo's 2008 secession. The two sides have often clashed in Kosovo's north with injuries on both sides.
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci welcomed the removal of the roadblock and pledged financial support for the Serb-dominated region that has stagnated amid wrangling for control between Belgrade and Pristina.
Most of the roughly 50,000 Serbs who live in Kosovo's north fear oppression at the hands of the ethnic Albanian majority and prefer to be closer to Belgrade. Kosovo has agreed to grant more autonomy to the region under pressure from its Western backers.
Some 10,000 people, most of them ethnic Albanians, died during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.