Kosovo Serbs remove barricade in Mitrovica after three years of erection

PRISTINA, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Serbs have removed the barricades that had been blocking the main bridge over the river in the divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo for almost three years.

The dismantling of the barricades occurred in the early hours on Wednesday morning, and for the first time in three years cars and people freely crossed the bridge which was seen as a symbol of dividing the city along ethnic lines.

A bulldozer was involved in removing the barricades in the northern side of the bridge which was erected in summer 2011 following Pristina's police operation to take over the border control in the north of Kosovo.

The dismantling operation occurred in a peaceful manner and no incident is reported. However, NATO-led peacekeeping forces (KFOR) and Kosovo police were present to ensure a safe operation.

KFOR spokesperson Angelo Morcella said Serbs themselves have decided to remove the barricade, following a dozen of meetings between local Serb leaders with KFOR commander Salvatore Farina.

Besim Hoti, deputy commander of the regional Kosovo police in Serb-dominated north of Mitrovica, said that this is an act of the goodwill of the Serbs.

"We do respect this and will do our best to maintain peace and security in the area," said Hoti.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci welcomed the voluntarily removal of the barricades, saying the action is another proof of the implementation of the agreement of April 2013 between Kosovo and Serbia for the normalization of relations between the two sides.

Kosovo proclaimed unilateral independence from Serbia in February 2008.