JARINGE, Kosovo - Soldiers from Multinational Battle Group East - specifically Georgia National Guard members - and Kosovo forces cleared a roadblock at the most northern official crossing point between Kosovo and Serbia Feb. 17 to Feb.18, near here.
Gate 1 is the official crossing point between the two territories and is manned by customs and border management officials from the European Union Law Enforcement Mission. The roadblock was setup last year by Serbians protesting the Kosovo government, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.
Since September 2011, people traveling near the border crossing have relied on alternate crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia, which were not safe once weather conditions worsened, according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Lynch, commander of the Georgia Army National Guard's 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, who led the mission to clear the roadblock.
"Over the past several weeks, the weather conditions have made the bypasses that people of northern Kosovo have been using dangerous," Lynch said. "KFOR is tasked to ensure freedom of movement for all people within the territory of Kosovo and the debris piles blocking the road were within the boundaries of Kosovo; so removing the debris blocking this roadway is part of our mandate."
The importance of freedom of movement for all Kosovo residents, one of KFOR's responsibilities under United Nations Resolution 1244, was highlighted by the recent avalanches in southern Kosovo and throughout Europe, which has claimed the lives of many people in the region. Clear roads are an essential part of getting humanitarian and emergency response crews to any location that has seen a record level of snowfall this season.
The mission, directed by German Army Maj. Gen. Erhard Drews, KFOR commander, also sought to re-establish the administrative boundary line at the crossing point between Kosovo and Serbia. Coordinating with the Serbian armed forces, members of MNBG E's Joint Implementation Commission provided documentation showing the roadblock was located on Kosovo territory, not Serbian, and thus was KFOR's responsibility to remove.
The snowfall this winter prompted military planners to expect the roadblock removal mission to last several days. The weather the night before reinforced that perception, with several inches of snow blanketing the northern portion of Kosovo. Despite the newly-dropped snow, MNBG E officials were able to remove the debris and snow within hours when the next day dawned sunny and relatively warm.
Assisting MNBG E in removing the snow were members of KFOR's Swiss and Austrian contingents. Chainsaws and snow plows aided manpower to accomplish the mission.
According to military officials, there are currently 13 roadblocks in northern Kosovo, although only two of them completely block traffic. Most are one-lane checkpoints manned by local Kosovo Serbians to control traffic.
When MNBG E arrived late last year, there were more than 20 roadblocks, but the Gate 1 roadblock is the first the U.S.-led forces have had to physically remove.
"MNBG E has been successfully creating an environment within the north Kosovo region where the roadblocks are not needed," Lynch said.
"There has been a great deal of dialogue between representatives of MNBG E, Joint Regional Detachment North [JRD N] and KFOR with local leaders, in order to get their cooperation in either removing the roadblocks completely or reducing their size," he said.