Kosovo, facing some opposition, to apply this week to join EU

Kosovo Serbs block the road near the village of Rudine
Kosovo Serbs block the road near the village of Rudine, North Mitrovica, Kosovo December 13, 2022. The European Union on Monday urged Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate their latest clashes. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

MITROVICA, Kosovo, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Kosovo will apply to join the European Union this week, Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Tuesday, a process that is expected to take years if not decades and is dependent on its normalising relations with Serbia.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, following a 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect the territory.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations and five EU states - Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus - refuse to recognise Kosovo's statehood.

"The European Union is a place of peace, security, equality and prosperity and that's why the Republic of Kosovo's place is in this joint house as a country that loves peace," Kurti said during a government session in Pristina.

Before any possible membership, Kosovo needs to reach an agreement with Serbia to normalise relations. The EU is already working on a deal it hopes both parties will agree to within a year.

Serb protesters in northern Kosovo have blocked main roads following an exchange of fire with police after the arrest of a former Serb policeman amid rising tensions between authorities and Kosovo's Serb minority.

Tuesday marked the fourth day of blockades and protesters have shown no sign they will remove trucks filled with gravel and other heavy machinery from main streets.

Kurti has asked the NATO peacekeeping mission to clear the roads.

EU police officers in armoured vehicles patrolled close to the roadblock in the village of Rudare close to town of Mitrovica while on other side of the barricade local Serbs burnt wood to keep warm as temperatures hit below zero with sporadic snow.

Kosovo's independence is recognised by around 110 countries but not by Serbia, Russia or China, among others.

There is reluctance to enlarge the EU among its 27 member states, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led them to devote more energy to improving relations with the six Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Kosovo is the only country in the region until now not to have applied to join the EU.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Nick Macfie

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