Serbia's Vucic urges Serbs in Kosovo to remove barricades - official

EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has urged ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to end protests against the Pristina government, reassuring them that they would be immune from prosecution, a Serbian official said on Wednesday.

"We have received guarantees from the United States and European Union that none of the Serbs in Kosovo who participated in protests and who took part in barricades will be prosecuted or arrested," said Petar Petkovic, head of Serbia's government office for Kosovo, in a press briefing.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia and Serbs in north Kosovo have refused to recognise that and their licence plates are still being issued by Serbia. The United States and European Union are mediating talks to resolve outstanding bilateral issues.

"We also received guarantees that Kosovo Security Forces will not come to Serb majority north of Kosovo without consent of KFOR commander and representatives of local population," Petkovic said, referring to the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

Bilateral tensions have been running high since last month when ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo quit their jobs in state institutions, including the police and judiciary, over the Kosovo government's decision to replace Serbian-issued car licence plates.

Serbs in north Kosovo have erected barricades and blocked roads for about three weeks following the arrest of former police officer Dejan Pantic by Kosovo police. His release was one of the main demands of the protesters.

Vucic has called on Serbs in the north to remove barricades, Petkovic added.

Vucic and Kosovo Serb representatives will meet Wednesday evening near the Kosovo border and announce if the barricades will be removed, Petkovic said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the United States, NATO and European Union urged maximum restraint by both sides in the standoff.

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Richard Chang)