Direct From Northern Kosovo: Tensions Reduced After Successful Talks


Serb road block in Rudare, near Zvecan

Serb road block in Rudare, near Zvecan (www.jb-photography.org)

Zvecan, northern Kosovo, 8 August: The tensions in the three serb-majority Municipalities in northern Kosovo were greatly reduced yesterday after the talks in Leposavic and Belgrade over the weekend resulted in a compromise.

Talks in Leposavic and Belgrade

The talks between Kosovo-Serbs, representatives of the Serbian government and the KFOR on Saturday in the town of Leposavic, about 20 Kilometers north of Kosovska Mitrovica, were according to all participants „peaceful and constructiv“. The agreement reached during the conference includes:

  • transport of up to 5 tons of goods are free
  • transport of more than 5 tons of goods across the Kosovo-Serbian border must be declared in advance
  • no restriction of movement of people across the border
  • the three Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo (Leposavic, Zvecan, Zubin Potok) would agree to a partial autonomy inside Kosovo

Yesterday, the mayors of the Serb municipalities were in Belgrade for talks with Prime Minister Boris Tadic and other representatives of the Serbian government. Tadic was informed about the general situation in northern Kosovo and about living conditions in the Serb-dominated region. All participants emphasized that every compromise would be better than an escalation of conflict and violence.

Road block in Leposavic on the way to the Jarinje border crossing

Road block in Leposavic on the way to the Jarinje border crossing (www.jb-photography.org)

Also yesterday, it was announced that the three road blocks on the roads to the border crossings of Brnjak (road block south of Zubin Potok) and Jarinje (road blocks at Rudare and Leposavic) should be cleared on Tuesday.

Some clarification about the road blocks: the one at Rudare, which figured prominently in the coverage of the international media, is very easy to avoid. Instead of crossing the river Iber on the eastern bridge in Kosovska Mitrovica, one has to go over the western one, then proceed past the Trepca industrial complex into Zvecan and then the road joins the trunk road just behind the barricades.

Border Crossings Jarinje and Brnjak

On both check points the situation is quiet and according to a KFOR source that always was the case at Brnjak. The source also mentioned that Brnjak was never closed contrary to what was reported last week. The Brnjak crossing point is in a rather lonely part of the country and traffic is between very light and non-existent. Two hundred troops secure this check point, at the time of our visit they were French, Moroccan and Slovenian.

At the Jarinje border crossing the US Army was in charge, assisted by Polish troops. The US soldiers did not volunteer a lot of information but were otherwise very friendly and polite. Guessing by the set-up in front of the customs buildings that have been torched and destroyed a week ago, at least another 200 soldiers take care of this check point. Especially arms, ammunition and explosives is what the GI’s are looking for. Traffic is much higher at Jarinje, for that reason the EULEXsupports the KFOR here.

Burnt-out pickup at the totally destroyed Jarinje border crossing

Burnt-out pickup at the totally destroyed Jarinje border crossing (www.jb-photography.org)

The mood within the Serb population

On Friday evening, people at the Rudare road block were talking about „setting everything on fire“. On Saturday, after the result of the talks in Leposavic was announced, the mood relaxed considerably.

Yesterday we witnessed a meeting of protest organizers and while the existing road blocks will be cleared tomorrow, the people are ready to set them back up as soon as they feel provoked again. One owner of 23 lorries said that he would be willing and able to use these to bring the traffic in the whole region to a standstill.

In general, the Serb population is still very tense, especially towards the press, but the will to strike a compromise is there. The main worry of the people is, that they get everything they need for living from Serbia and if the cross-border traffic of goods is blocked or restricted, they fear for their livelihood.

Polish soldiers securing the conference in Leposavic

Polish soldiers securing the conference in Leposavic (www.jb-photography.org)

KFOR

Trying to get information through official channels from the KFOR is a futile excercise, neither the so-called ’Public Affairs Office’ nor the ’Media Information Centre’ found it necessary to answer a single of our multiple inquiries. A colleague from the Serbian news agency Tanjug complained about exactly the same treatment, asking why on the KFOR’s website there are eleven different contacts for the press when nobody is willing to answer a question or give a comment.

Thanks to the real soldiers in the field (as opposed to the paper pushers in the offices) there is still information available from the KFOR and the troops are professional enough to know what they can say and what not.

So in conclusion: many thanks to the KFOR soldiers, who were willing to talk to us and gave us valuable, non-restricted information. Also many thanks to the individuals, that explained to us what their issues are.

(All images are Copyright Mariela Zamfirova and Johann Brandstätter. On our website we have two large galleries with shots we took in Kosovo; just follow these links: Kosovo Gallerie 1Kosovo Gallerie 2)

(M. Zamfirova & J. Brandstatter, reporting directly from Zvecan, Northern Kosovo; 8 August 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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