PRISTINA -- A convoy of troops from the NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping force, KFOR, has been turned away at a roadblock in northern Kosovo set up by ethnic Serbs near a border crossing with Serbia.
Tensions in the region have been running high lately, with local Serbs blocking main roads leading to the border crossings since July to prevent the authorities of majority-ethnic-Albanian Kosovo from stretching their control over the Serb-dominated North.
KFOR had given the Serbs until October 18 to remove the crossings. The AFP news agency cited the Serb mayor of the town of Zubin Potok, whose name was not given, as confirming the KFOR convoy was stopped in the area near the Brnjak crossing and that KFOR spoke with Serb protesters and agreed to wait until October 19 before taking any action.
KFOR spokesman Uwe Nowitzki said the convoy approached the roadblock as a "test" of KFOR's demand all roadblocks be removed.
Leaders in the northern Serb enclave, while refusing to order the barriers removed, also had urged local Serbs to pull back if KFOR moves to dismantle them.
Earlier, on October 17, residents of the town of Zubin Potok held a rally they described as a "rehearsal" for resistance. "We ask nothing from them except to be left alone, to stay and live in the state of Serbia," Zubin Potok Mayor Salvisa Ristic told the protesters.
At a meeting with KFOR commander Erhard Drews on October 15, representatives of the four main municipalities in the region asked Drews to take no action until after an October 19 joint session of the four towns. But KFOR initially set an October 17 deadline for dismantling the barricades and later pushed it back one day to October 18.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said in an interview published by the Belgrade newspaper "Politika" on October 16 that the borders between Serbia and Kosovo must be redrawn if the current tensions were to be resolved peacefully. He called for an international conference to divide Kosovo, saying otherwise the region would be enslaved by a situation that "will for years eat away like a cancer at our mutual relations and the general situation in the Balkans."
The conflict threatens to complicate Belgrade's efforts for further integration with the European Union.