news 24 Aug 12

NATO Won't Dismantle Barricade in Mitrovica

KFOR Commander Erhard Drews says removal of the barricades in northern Kosovo depends on political progress, not on NATO military actions.

Fatmir Aliu
BIRN
Pristina

The chief of NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, KFOR, says that conditions have not been met to remove the barricade on the main bridge in the northern town of Mitrovica, which divides it into Albanian and Serb zones.

General Erhard Drews said that the success of such an operation depended on political progress, not on military moves.

“I think the moment has not come, and the conditions have not been met for such an action,” he said during a visit to Malisheva.

Northern Kosovo, which borders Serbia, including the northern half of Mitrovica, is mostly inhabited by Serbs who do not recognise Kosovo's independence or the government in Pristina.

The area is under the de-facto control of so-called parallel institutions funded by Belgrade. These parallel institutions include town councils, health authorities, post offices and schools.

According to a Kosovo government report from 2011, Serbian security structures have operated continually in the north since 1999.

For a year now, Serbs have blocked roads in the north, protesting over the presence of Kosovo government police and customs on the contested border with Serbia.

Two weeks ago, General Drews, while visiting Mitrovica, said that the barricades were shameful for the entire population.

But he added that the solution for their removal needed to be found through politics, not through military actions, as the authorities in Pristina have requested.

However, on Thursday KFOR did take control of one barricade in Zupce, in Zubin Potok municipality.

For months a sand and wood barricade blocked vehicles from approaching the border crossing with Serbia known as Gate 31, at Brnjak.

Owing to the tense situation in the north, NATO is sending an additional 700 peacekeeping troops to Kosovo, which are expected to be posted in the north.

The troops, part of the Operational Reserve Forces, are to deploy in October.

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