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Serbs dismantle barricades as Kosovo standoff eases

STORY:

Serbs started dismantling barricades in northern Kosovo on Thursday -- hours after Kosovo reopened its main border crossing with Serbia,

It marked the easing of a surge in tensions that has alarmed world powers.

Serbia also ended a three-day-old state of alert for its troops, Tanjug news agency reported.

The sides showed signs of bowing to pressure from the European Union and the United States to step back from a mounting confrontation.

Around 50,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo refuse to recognize the government in Pristina or the status of Kosovo as a separate country.

They have the support of many Serbs in Serbia and its government.

The latest peak in the long-running standoff came as Serbs in northern Kosovo started erecting roadblocks on Dec. 10 in protest at the arrest of a former Serb policeman.

They agreed to start dismantling the barricades after the former policeman was moved from detention to house arrest on Wednesday (December 28).

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

NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo said it welcomed the removal of the barricades.

Kosovo has long been a source of tension between the West, which backed its independence, and Russia, which supports Serbia in its efforts to block Kosovo's membership of global organisations including the United Nations.