Serbia, Kosovo open main border crossing amid reduced tensions
Serbia and Kosovo have reached a settlement to open the main border crossing between them after international calls for reconciliation before the situation spirals out of control.
The main border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia was back open on Thursday as tensions between the two countries eased after reaching record levels and drawing calls from the international community to de-escalate the situation.
Belgrade dismantled the barricades erected on its side of the Merdare border crossing, with Pristina saying that its crossing was open after unprecedented tensions.
The Kosovar police issued a statement Thursday saying the "Merdare border crossing point has been opened for traffic and has returned to full normality."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that Serbs in northern Kosovo will start removing barricades on Thursday morning.
"It is a long process. It will take a while," Vucic said after meeting Serbs from northern Kosovo in the Serbian town of Raska, as quoted by Reuters.
On December 10, Serbs in the north of Kosovo began setting up barricades in protest against the arrest of several Serb police officers by the Kosovar authorities over accusations of war crimes and terrorism dating back to the 1998-1999 conflict.
On December 11, Vucic held a national security council meeting and accused Kosovo of violating existing agreements after Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti urged the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force to dismantle road barricades erected by Serbs in Kosovo.
Kosovo warned that if the NATO-led mission refused to step in, its security forces would carry out the operation themselves.
Bilateral tensions have been running high since last month when ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo quit their jobs in state institutions, including the police and judiciary, over the Kosovo government's decision to replace Serbian-issued car license plates.
Serbs in northern Kosovo resigned from public institutions in protest over the row on vehicle number plates.
This comes after a Serbian official said on Wednesday that Vucic has called on Serbs in Kosovo to end protests against the Pristina government, reassuring them that they would be immune from prosecution.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia and Serbs in north Kosovo have refused to recognize the move.
Serbia's Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic said he "ordered the full combat readiness" of police and other security units, adding that they will be placed under the army chief of staff's command according to "their operational plan."
Additionally, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic had warned that the situation in Kosovo is on the brink of armed conflict.
It is worth noting that Security Council Resolution No. 1244 confirms that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia and that arbitrary treatment of the principle of territorial integrity, with regard to a sovereign state, can only be considered a blatant interference in its internal affairs.