Kosovo has agreed to postpone plans to implement two measures regarding car license plates and travel documents of people travelling from Serbia, following a raft of discussions with EU and US stakeholders in the early hours of Monday (1 August).
The government of Albin Kurti announced it would implement reciprocal measures on those travelling from Serbia to Kosovo, including requiring additional travel documents and replacing Serbian plates for temporary Kosovo plates. These mirror the requirements on those travelling from Kosovo to Serbia.
Originally due to be in force from Monday, Kosovo leadership said it will postpone the rollout until 1 September after having “held contact and meetings with American and European international factors.”
“Following this, the Kosovo government has given a pledge to postpone the implementation of the two decisions dated 29 June 2022, until 1 September 2022…from the moment when all barricades are removed, and full freedom of movement is established on all roads in northern Kosovo,” a government statement said.
Following a bloody war between 1998 and 1999 which saw thousands of ethnic Albanians killed, raped and injured, and 1.5 million displaced, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Despite this, 50,000 Serbs living in the country’s north still use license plates and documents from Belgrade, refusing to recognise institutions in Pristina.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that as of 1 August, Serbs would have 60 days to get Kosovo license plates and that all citizens from Serbia visiting Kosovo would need an extra document at the border to permit them to enter.
Despite Belgrade having the exact requirements for Kosovo, the news did not go down well. Shots were fired at police on Sunday, and several Albanians reported being assaulted and their cars attacked in the tense northern region.
Air raid sirens wailed for more than three hours in Mitrovica, a majority Serb town, and Serbs blocked roads near two border crossing points, leading to Pristina closing them and advising travellers to use other points.
Late on Sunday, President Vjosa Osmani called on Serbs not to fall for propaganda directed at a simple reciprocity measure.
“The measure of reciprocity is not directed against anyone, but in favour of citizens regardless of relevance. Therefore, I invite Serbian citizens of the Republic of Kosovo not to fall prey to Belgrade propaganda.”
She continued that Kosovo institutions are working hard to maintain the rule of law and freedom of movement, adding, “Vucic’s attempts to destabilise Kosovo, which is being served by the methods of his mentor Putin, will fail.”
September 2021 issue
In September 2021, Kurti’s government required cars with Serbian license plates to acquire Kosovo-issued licenses.
The license place issue stems from a bilateral agreement signed in 2011, whereby cars from each country were supposed to be able to continue using their license plates while on the other’s territory.
Serbia retaliated by sending troops to its border with Kosovo and galvanising protests among Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs.
While the two parties signed a temporary agreement—with vehicles moving between the two countries requiring stickers on their license plates to hide country names and flags—they have failed to reach a permanent solution.
The government in Pristina had also called on Serbs living in the north to replace their Serbia-issue licensed plates with Kosovo ones rather than continue using stickers.
The NATO peacekeeping force deployed to help maintain the fragile peace since the end of the war, KFOR also issued a statement.
“The NATO-led KFOR mission is monitoring closely and is prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardised, in accordance with its mandate.”
It also highlighted the critical role of EU-facilitated dialogue in normalising relations between the two countries.
“This is critical for regional peace and security. There will be no real prospects for a better future in the Balkans without full respect for human rights and democratic values, the rule of law, domestic reforms, and good neeighbourly relations.”
Kosovo and Serbia have been engaged in EU-led dialogue for over a decade, aimed at normalising relations. Unfortunately, there has been little in the way of progress, and most of the deals signed have not been implemented.
The EU sees the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia as a condition for the country’s EU accession. Nevertheless, Belgrade continues to insist that it will never recognise its former province which it calls Kosovo and Metohija.
Apart from Serbia, EU members Greece, Cyprus, Slovakia, Romania and Spain do not recognise Kosovo’s independence.
Meanwhile, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic said the action by Pristina had been coordinated for a long time but that “there will be no surrender, Serbia will win.”