• AFP-Jiji

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Serbia on Saturday blocked Kosovo’s boxing squad from crossing the border to take part in a competition after the athletes refused to remove national symbols on their equipment, officials in Pristina said.

Serbia does not recognize its former ethnic-Albanian majority province as an independent state, although Kosovo proclaimed it more than 13 years ago following a war in the late 1990s.

Kosovo is officially recognized by many international sports federations including world soccer’s ruling body FIFA and the International Olympic Committee — though Serbia continues to lobby against it.

“We were told that we could pass but only without the symbols of Kosovo,” said Kosovo Boxing Federation chief Latif Demolli.

He told local media the border authorities asked boxers to remove “national emblems on their T-shirts for the ring and tracksuits as a condition for entry,” but he refused.

The three boxers in the team were set to take part in the Men’s World Boxing Championships, which starts in Belgrade on Sunday.

There was no immediate comment from Serbia.

Tension between the two sides has escalated in recent weeks — firstly with a row over number plates with national symbols at the border, then with unrest in a Serb-majority area of Kosovo.

Kosovo is recognised by roughly 100 states, including the United States and most EU countries.

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