PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's special police forces that moved into the country's disputed north overnight to extend the government's writ at borders with Serbia will withdraw as part of a deal between Kosovo and Serbia and mediated by NATO, a spokesman for the military alliance said Tuesday.
No Kosovo officials were immediately available to confirm if the deal was reached, but an AP reporter witnessed traffic resuming on a main road in the north after Kosovo police special units withdrew and Serbs removed trucks and lorries used to block the road.
The overnight operation by Kosovo's special police units was criticized by the European Union, which is currently mediating normalization talks between the former foes, and is likely to inflame tensions in the region that remains disputed over a decade after the end of Kosovo's war.
Lightly armed special police units in riot gear crossed into the Serb-dominated area late Monday and took control of one border post, before being blocked by local Serbs on the way to the other crossing point.
One police officer was wounded during the police operation launched late Monday, said police spokesman Brahim Sadriu.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia has said it will not recognize the new state and Serbs living in Kosovo's north do not recognize Pristina's authority over them.
Kosovo government officials defended the overnight operation as an attempt to restore order in the north.
Serbia's Kosovo negotiator Borko Stefanovic told Serbia's official Tanjug news agency that Pristina's move was "damaging" for the fragile relations between the two foes but added most of the "elements" for solving the crisis have been agreed in talks with NATO.
About 6,000 NATO troops are still deployed in Kosovo following the end of the war in 1999, when the military alliance bombed Serb troops out of this former Serbian province, following their brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
NATO spokesman Cpt. Hans Wichter said regular police are expected to assume control of border crossings and more ethnic Albanian officers would be assigned to monitor the crossings alongside Serb members of the force.
The operation follows a decision by Kosovo's authorities to impose a ban on goods coming from Serbia in retaliation for a similar measure imposed by Serbia on Kosovo goods.
The top European Union representative in Kosovo condemned the police action as a unilateral move that increases tensions between Kosovo and Serbia shortly after the 27-member bloc hailed progress in talks between the two sides.
"The operation carried out last night by the Kosovo authorities was not helpful," Fernando Gentilini said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. "The EU does not approve it."
Top Kosovo officials have called for more aggressive action in the north. They have blamed an EU rule of law mission, which works alongside the local police force, of being reluctant to face minority Serbs boycotting Pristina's authority.
The crossings were previously manned by Serb members of the force and loosely supervised by EU police and customs, but mostly shunned orders from Pristina.
Both crossings were set on fire by rioting Serbs on the eve of Kosovo's secession and have since been loosely manned by the 3,000-strong EU mission and Serb member of the local police force. The attacks in 2008 strengthened the ethnic division in the north and gave minority Serbs control of the area that is closely supervised by Belgrade.
Associated Press writers Zvezdan Djukanovic and Jovana Gec contributed to this report