December 10, 2012 - 17:20 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Serbia and its former Kosovo province began the joint control of two border crossings on Monday, Dec 10, for the first time since a 1998-99 war, prodded by the European Union as a condition of opening membership talks with Serbia, according to Reuters.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's Western-backed declaration of independence in 2008 but is under pressure to cooperate with the new country in order to make progress in its bid to join the European Union.
The region is on the agenda of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
For the first time since NATO bombs drove Serb security forces from majority-Albanian Kosovo in 1999, police and customs officers from Serbia, Kosovo and the EU began working together at two newly-built joint border posts at Jarinje and Merdare.
Two more from a total of six are due to open by December 31.
Jarinje in particular has been the focus of repeated bouts of violence, located in a border region populated by minority Kosovo Serbs who refuse to accept Kosovo as a sovereign state.
Poorly policed for years, smuggling flourished through Jarinje and another border crossing in the north, an area still largely beyond the control of the Kosovo government.
A spokeswoman for the EU's police and justice mission, EULEX, said the mission was "more than happy" with the deal.
Officers from all sides lined up at the opening. But there was little fanfare or formality, reflecting enduring differences between Serbia and majority Albanian Kosovo over whether or not the frontier represents an international border.
EU officials hope the new mechanism will encourage greater freedom of movement and ease tensions. Local Serb leaders in the north have branded it a betrayal, but called off protests after negotiations with Belgrade.
"We have shown in difficult circumstances that we are capable and bold enough to protect peace and our own national interests," Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic told reporters.