Kosovo, Serbia Launch Joint Border Checks
Two border crossings between Serbia and its former province Kosovo, which Belgrade does not recognize, opened under joint management for the first time Monday, following European Union mediation.
The two crossings in Merdare and Jarinje, which had previously been functioning as informal checkpoints between Serbia and northern Kosovo, were officially opened for both business and individual travelers.
The Serb minority and Belgrade do not recognize ethnic Albanian majority Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence but an AFP reporter in Jarinje, which has been a flashpoint in the past, said no incidents were reported.
The agreement on joint border checks was reached between Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci in Brussels earlier this month.
The deal foresees the opening of two more crossings by December 31.
The 40,000-strong Serb community in the Jarinje area had been reluctant to accept the move but was given assurances they would not be asked to produce Kosovo ID or licence plates to travel to Serbia.
"Just like Kosovo Albanians refuse to live under Belgrade authorities, Kosovo Serbs refuse to live under Pristina authority," said Marko Jaksic, one of the Serb leaders in the north.
Later on Monday, some 1,000 ultra-nationalists protested in Belgrade against the move, marching along the central streets behind a huge banner reading "Never a border, Kosovo is Serbia".
Strong anti-riot police forces escorted the protesters as they passed by the Serbian presidency building, but no incidents were reported.
The European Union is offering to draw both sides closer to the 27-nation bloc if they cooperate to resolve trade and security issues, including matters that have poisoned ordinary people's daily lives such as border crossings.
A series of agreements struck in the EU-run talks that kicked off in March 2011 included deals such as the mutual recognition of university degrees and the return of property records.