Pristina closure of the Merdare crossing on Kosovo’s eastern border comes as tensions with its Balkans neighbour spiral.

Kosovo has closed its biggest border crossing after protesters blocked it on the Serbian side to support their ethnic kin in Kosovo in refusing to recognise the country’s independence.

Wednesday’s move has left only three entry points between the two countries open, with two other crossings on the Serbian border closed by similar protests on their Kosovar sides since December 10.

The latest protest came hours after Serbia said it had put its army on the highest possible level of alert following weeks of escalating tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbs in Serbia used a truck and tractors on Tuesday to create the latest roadblock, close to the Merdare crossing on Kosovo’s eastern border, Belgrade-based media reported.

The obstruction is preventing thousands of Kosovars who work elsewhere in Europe from returning home for holidays.

About 50,000 Serbs living in ethnically divided northern Kosovo refuse to recognise the government in Pristina or the status of Kosovo as a country separate from Serbia. They have the support of many Serbs in Serbia and its government.

The closure in effect

“If you have already entered Serbia then you have to use other border crossings … or go through North Macedonia,” Kosovo’s foreign ministry said on its Facebook page, announcing the closure of the Merdare crossing.

The closure took effect at midnight, though the crossing was apparently already unusable.

The Merdare entry point is Kosovo’s most important for road freight. The country has international rail links.

A man crosses a street near a roadblock in the northern part of the ethnically-divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, December 27, 2022. REUTERS/Miodrag Draskic
A man crosses a street near a roadblock in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo [Miodrag Draskic/Reuters]

Since December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo have exchanged fire with police and erected more than 10 roadblocks in and around Mitrovica.

Their action followed the arrest of a former Serb policeman for allegedly assaulting serving police officers.

On Tuesday, two more roadblocks were erected in the north.

Russian influence

Kosovo’s interior minister has accused Serbia, under the influence of Russia, of attempting to destabilise his country via the protests.

Serbia denies it is trying to destabilise its neighbour and says it only wants to protect the Serbian minority living in what is now Kosovan territory but is not recognised by Belgrade.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, following a 1998-99 war in which NATO intervened to protect ethnic Albanian citizens.

Kosovo’s government has asked NATO’s peacekeeping force for the country, the approximately 4,000-strong KFOR, to clear the barricades. But KFOR has no authority to act on Serbian soil.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence came 10 years after a war between ethnic Albanian fighters and Serbian forces that killed 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians.

Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, does not recognise the statehood of its former province but most Western countries do, including the United States.

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By nmybx

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