JARINJE, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo and Serbia started to implement an EU-brokered deal to jointly check goods and travelers at crossing points on Monday, a crucial step for the former foes to improve relations as they seek eventual membership in the European Union.
Police and customs officials from both sides worked with EU representatives in a bid to show they can implement the deal despite bitter disagreement on Kosovo's 2008 secession. The two sides disagree on the significance of the deal. Kosovo insists the crossings represent an official border but Serbia says the checkpoints do not undermine its claim over Kosovo.
The deal was sealed earlier between Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and Serbia's Ivica Dacic in Brussels. Dacic welcomed the implementation as a sign of commitment by Serbia's new government to settle the dispute with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
"We showed that we are capable of protecting the peace and our national interests," Dacic said. The agreement seeks to ease travel between Kosovo and Serbia and clamp down on smuggling that has deprived both sides of much-needed income.
The northern part of Kosovo has evaded international control and defies Pristina's authority, leaving a vacuum exploited by criminals and smugglers. Serbs in the region are backed by Belgrade in their opposition to ethnic-Albanian dominated authorities.
Most of the 40,000 Serbs living in the north gathered there as they fled revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians at the end of the 1998-99 war. They want to remain under Belgrade's control and say the presence of Kosovo authorities cements Pristina's claim to statehood.
Kosovo's independence is recognized by 96 countries including most EU countries and the United States, but strongly rejected by Serbia.
Jovana Gec in Belgrade and Nebi Qena in Pristina contributed to this report