Serbs living in the north blocked roads after Pristina ordered Kosovo to issue Kosovo license plates instead of Serbian ones
The government of Kosovo postponed the implementation of a decision obliging Serbs living in the north to apply for license plates issued by the Kosovo authorities. This came amid tensions between police and locals who were blocking the roads.
On Sunday evening, protesters put trucks with gravel and other heavy equipment on the roads leading to the two border crossings, Jarinje and Brnjak, in Serb-majority territory. In response, the Kosovo police said they would have to close the border crossings.
“We urge all citizens to use other border crossings,” police said on their Facebook page.
Police reported shooting “in the direction of police units,” which “fortunately, didn’t result in any injuries.”
“The overall security situation in Kosovo’s northern municipalities is tense,” the NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo said in a statement.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the escalating tensions were the result of “unjustified discriminatory rules” imposed by Kosovo authorities.
Fourteen years after Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, some 50,000 Serbs living in the north are using license plates and documents issued by Serbian authorities, refusing to recognize state institutions in Pristina. More than 100 states have recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but Serbia and Russia are not among them.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government said it would give Serbs a 60-day transition period, starting August 1, to obtain Kosovo license plates. This came one year after attempts to implement such a solution were abandoned due to similar protests.
The government also stated that as of August 1, all Serbian citizens visiting Kosovo must obtain an additional entry permit at the border.
The same rule is applied by authorities in Belgrade to Kosovars visiting Serbia.
However, after Sunday’s tension and consultations with the EU and the US ambassadors, the Kosovo government said it would postpone the plan by a month and begin implementing it on September 1.
European diplomatic chief Josep Borrell welcomed Kosovo’s decision to postpone the announced measures by a month, tweeting that he expected the blocked roads to be unblocked immediately.
Tensions between the two countries have reached a peak in several years. The fragile peace in Kosovo is being maintained by a NATO mission with 3,770 troops on the ground. On Sunday, Italian peacekeepers could be seen in and around Kosovska Mitrovica.
In 2013, Kosovo and Serbia committed to an EU-backed dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made.