The Serbian President Boris Tadic called on Serbs in northern Kosovo Saturday to remove barricades in the restless area, a move that may help the Balkan country in removing a key obstacle for its European Union accession bid.
Tadic also urged Kosovo Serbs to implement an agreement on border controls reached in Brussels Friday between his country and Kosovo.
He said the solution reached in Brussels under EU auspices was not ideal but he fully supported the border deal. We have achieved what was possible at the moment, he told reporters in Berlin.
Serbs in the north of Kosovo reject the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority. They have been manning barricades since the government in Pristina in July tried to send police and customs officers to impose control of borders between this mainly Serb are and Serbia proper.
Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was unacceptable for Belgrade to contribute to the tense atmosphere surrounding the attacks on the international Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers earlier this month and that Serbia was not ready for EU membership candidacy.
Hundreds of Serbs had so far resisted an operation by NATO peacekeepers to remove barricades in the north of Kosovo. A previous appeal by Tadic last week for the removal of the roadblocks had no effect.
Unrest between NATO troops and ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo has flared in recent weeks and 30 German and Austrian soldiers were hurt in recent clashes.
Tadic declined to speculate whether the agreement could change Germany's opposition to Serbia's EU candidacy.
I would not rush when it comes to that, and even if that does not happen, we should never give up on that (EU candidacy).
The border control agreement between Serbia and Kosovo came just days before EU leaders are scheduled to discuss Belgrade's accession bid on Dec 9.
Asked whether Kosovo Serbs would remove barricades and let the agreement take effect as of December 26, Tadic said he was optimistic.
I believe they will (adhere to the agreement)... This is what I want and this is what I demand from them, he said.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 and declared independence in 2008. The United States and most of its European allies have recognized the new state, but Belgrade, backed by Russia, China and some EU members such as Spain and Slovakia remain opposed.
Cooperation between Belgrade and Pristina is a condition for the start of Serbia's EU process.
Tadic pointed out that the border agreement was limited in scope as it did not include recognising Kosovo state symbols.
This solution does not contain statehood symbols of the so-called state of Kosovo, no state symbols whatsoever, no (Kosovo) customs officers that will do their duties, they will only be observers.
With this solution, Belgrade cold not reverse (the) situation to where it was before unilateral action of Kosovo forces (in July), but it has managed to bring it to situation which is much better than several days ago, he said.
(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michael Roddy)