NATO troops patrol Kosovo-Serbian border after truck blockade

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JARINJE, Kosovo (AP) – Soldiers from a NATO-led peacekeeping mission monitor the border between Kosovo and Serbia after the two countries reach an agreement to ease tensions sparked by a dispute on vehicle registration plates.

Kosovo Forces troops from the United States, Italy and Poland were seen patrolling on Saturday as ethnic Serbs pulled back the trucks they had used to block the road to two border posts while protesting against the decision of the government of Kosovo not to allow vehicles with Serbian license plates in the country.

Kosovar police special forces have also withdrawn from the border, where they were deployed two weeks ago to remove registration plates from incoming cars and replace them with a temporary registration in Kosovo.

The government in Pristina said it was replicating what Serbia had done to Kosovar motorists for a decade. Kosovo was a Serbian province before it declared independence in 2008, and ethnic Serbian troops and separatists waged a bloody war in Kosovo in the 1990s.

European Union mediator Miroslav Lajcak this week persuaded representatives of neighboring Balkan countries to let Kosovo Force (KFOR) troops take control of the areas for the next 14 days.

“From this weekend and for the next two weeks, KFOR will maintain a robust and agile temporary presence in the region,” a statement from the NATO mission said.

As part of the agreement, the two countries will affix stickers with the name and emblem of the other on the license plates of vehicles entering their territory.

KFOR, made up of approximately 4,000 troops from 28 countries, is led by NATO with support from the United Nations, the European Union and others. Its aim is to avoid persistent ethnic tensions between the Kosovo Albanian majority and ethnic Serbs in the minority.

The United States and most Western countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia, backed by its allies Russia and China, does not.

EU-facilitated negotiations to normalize relations between Pristina and Belgrade began in 2011 and have resulted in more than 30 agreements, which are either poorly observed or not observed at all.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

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