Serbia, NATO Reach Deal to End Kosovo Standoff

Belgrade, Serbia – The NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR) and Belgrade have reached an agreement to end a tense standoff in the Serb-dominated northern Kosovo after nearly two weeks, a source close to the talks told the German news agency dpa.

According to the deal, KFOR will maintain sole control over the two disputed border crossings into Serbia proper at least until mid-September, while Serbs will “within a few days” remove the roadblocks, the source said.

The details of the deal, which is not a formal agreement but “acknowledgement of mutual understanding” between the governments in Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian-dominated Pristina, are expected later.

The marathon talks between the KFOR commander, German Gen. Erhard Buehler; Belgrade's representative, Borislav Stefanovic; and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci on Thursday and Friday produced a deal that will allow the passage of passenger traffic through the two border checkpoints, Jarinje and Brnjak.

They will also be open for humanitarian aid from Serbia to the Serb minority in Kosovo, but larger shipments will have to be approved by international organizations.

The border will remain closed to commercial goods from Serbia. Also in line with Pristina's demands, KFOR will check inbound traffic for weapons.

The compromise was reached when Belgrade and Pristina both dropped what they listed as their central demands in the standoff – Serbia accepted the embargo of its goods in Kosovo and Pristina will not seek to appoint customs officials to the checkpoints.

The deal, however, does not resolve the crucial points of the Serbia-Kosovo row.

Belgrade continues to deny the sovereignty of Kosovo, a former Serb province, and supports the resistance of the Serb minority in their northern enclave against the authority of the government in Pristina.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but has remained unable to assert any authority over the Serb north, where parallel structures of authority are financed by Serbia.

The trade row threatened to fully derail the talks EU facilitated between Serbia and Kosovo since March with the aim to normalize non-political relations such as those in trade, energy, law-enforcement and education.

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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