Serbia slams demands over Kosovo as 'ethnic cleansing'
Serbia on Friday rejected international calls to dismantle its network of government institutions in volatile northern Kosovo, saying such a move would amount to "ethnic cleansing".
"By agreeing to withdraw our institutions from the north ... we would be de facto accepting a quiet ethnic cleansing of our own people," Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia's minister for Kosovo, told the Vecernje Novosti daily.
Belgrade, which does not accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence and still considers the territory as its southern province, maintains network of institutions including schools, hospitals and courts in Serb majority areas.
Around 40,000 ethnic Serbs live in northern Kosovo and another 80,000 live in other enclaves, representing a little over five percent of the overall population of some two million.
During a visit to Belgrade in August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Serbia must begin to dismantle its parallel Kosovo administration if it wants to be granted candidacy status for the European Union by the end of the year.
However Bogdanovic said such a move would be "unacceptable for us".
The situation in northern Kosovo remains tense as Kosovo Serbs are still in a stand-off with NATO-led peacekeeping force known as KFOR and an EU mission.
The Kosovo Serbs have erected a series of barricades on the roads leading to two disputed border crossings with Serbia. The international forces want the roadblocks to be removed.
In a tense game of cat and mouse, KFOR soldiers on Friday removed one barricade leading to the Brnjak border crossing before Kosovo Serbs quickly set up another roadblock in the vicinity.
The Serbs are blocking the passage to the border posts to protest against the presence of Kosovo Albanian customs and police officers at the crossings which they fear can limit their access to Serbia proper.
The ongoing crisis in northern Kosovo has caused EU-mediated talks between Pristina and Belgrade to be suspended which could harm Serbia's EU candidacy bid, diplomats have warned.
© 2011 AFP